Remembering Tony Maxworthy

Tony Maxworthy 1933–2013

Remembering Tony MaxworthyThe DFD lost a central and beloved figure when Professor Tony Maxworthy passed away suddenly, at work at the University of Southern California. On many an occasion he scoffed at the notion of retirement, saying that he would prefer to work until the end. And so he did.

Tony Maxworthy was well-known to many, partly for the astounding range of his interests in fluid mechanics, and partly for his life of worldwide travel, where he forged collaborations and friendships that would last all his life. A list of topics in which he made significant contributions would span many orders of magnitude in Reynolds number, from the flight of millimeter-scale insects, to the particle laden flows in volcanic eruptions and avalanche slides. But the range of dimensionless numbers themselves would be quite extraordinary, as he worked on partially-miscible fluids, flame propagation and stabilization, liquid sodium flows in magneto-fluid dynamics, the Jovian atmosphere, coastal upwelling and turbulence in salt-stratified and/or rotating flows, capillary wave instabilities on jets and sheets, tidal flows in lakes and rivers, Hele-Shaw flows, sonic boom penetration through wavy interfaces, and more.

Tony Maxworthy was known also for his wide-ranging travels and he forged particularly close relationships with the DAMTP group in Cambridge (with Herbert Huppert), the Grenoble/LEGI group (with Emil Hopfinger), and the University of Western Australia (with Jorge Imberger).

The twin characteristics of wide travel and intellectual interests led to certain signature phenomena. The first followed on from his uncanny ability to identify and perform the first important experiment in, for example, dust devil. The consequences were twofold: first we would all have a new starting point for thinking about the problem, and second, many of us would then spend months or years following up with more detailed and precise measurements, or corollary studies, with the usual result being to confirm what Tony Maxworthy had originally found/proposed. The second set of consequences from his frequent travels was that he was said to have mastered the art of being simultaneously everywhere and nowhere. A starting postdoc at institution X, might discover upon arrival that Tony was in fact at Y, and so there was strong incentive for such people to be self-starters, and then to be even more grateful when he did materialize. Tony, as even his students called him, was very smart and unpretentious, but with good spirit he also assumed that everyone he came in touch with was just as intelligent.

The standard biographical material relates how Tony Maxworthy was born in Ealing, a suburb of London, in 1933, obtaining his B.S. in Mechanical Engineering at Imperial College in 1954, M.S. in Mechanical Engineering at Princeton in 1955, and Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from Harvard in 1960. He worked at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena for seven years before coming to USC in 1967, where he remained (in a manner of speaking) for the rest of his career. His career flourished in explosions of creativity and insight that won him international recognition and respect.

He was a Visiting, and then Life Fellow of Clare College, Cambridge, a Fellow of the American Physical Society, a Member of the National Academy of Engineering, and a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 1981 & 1982, he was an Alexander von Humboldt Senior Scientist, in 1990 he received the Otto Laporte Award from the APS, in 2005 he was awarded the G.I. Taylor Medal of the Society of Engineering Science, and in 2011 he received the APS Fluid Dynamics Prize. Just one month before his passing, USC announced that he had been appointed a Distinguished University Professor.

These details show the career of an eminent scientist, but they do not reflect how large a figure in life he was for those who knew him. Everyone who has crossed his path has been struck by how gracious a character he was, with a dry wit and quiet and reserved, albeit warm, personality. We will all miss him, but he will remain a role model for those who carry on.

Written by Geoffrey Spedding and Mohamed Gad-el-Hak, who are both honored to have been postdoctoral research fellows with Tony.