Great in character as well as knowledge

I was reading this article and found it pretty amusing. It is written by Fritz Ursell, recounting his early career as an applied mathematician. Especially interesting (and inspiring) is his account on the two great men that have influenced his life: George Deacon and G. I. Taylor.

Telling his experience as a budding young mathematician working in a group led by Deacon upon the devising of methods which have become the basis of modern wave-forecasting, Ursell writes, “Barber and I wrote a draft paper for publication. This was re-written by George Deacon in a brilliant manner. According to Admiralty rules he should have appeared as the sole author, but in fact he refused to have his name mentioned at all. Famous scientists visited us from all over the world, in 1946 and 1947. Deacon would explain our joint work to them, then he would say, ‘Of course, I was merely the administrator, the work was actually done by A, B, C, D, and E,’ and then he would mention all our names. … It remained his policy never to take any credit for the good work over which he presided.”

Years later, he met G. I. Taylor. This is what he writes on his experience working with Taylor: “He had read my theoretical paper on trapped modes in oblique waves, and he insisted that I ought now to demonstrate these by experiment. I protested: where would I do this, I had no experimental facilities, I was no experimenter. He brushed this aside, I could informally join his small group. … This was a strange and inspiring experience. G. I. Taylor had no special interest in trapped modes, but he felt that he must contribute to my science education at some expense and inconvenience to himself, he provided everything, I did not need to apply for financial support.”


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