Author
Maribeth Keitz Memorial Tributes Volume 3 National Academy of Engineering
Membership Directory
PublisherNational Academies Press
ReleasedAugust 1, 1989
Copyright1989
Memorial Tributes: National Academy of Engineering, Volume 3

This is the third volume in the series of Memorial Tributes compiled by the National Academy of Engineering as a personal remembrance of the lives and outstanding achievements of its members and international members. These volumes are intended to stand as an enduring record of the many contributions of engineers and engineering to the benefit of humankind. In most cases, the authors of the tributes are contemporaries or colleagues who had personal knowledge of the interests and the engineering accomplishments of the deceased.

This is the third volume in the series of Memorial Tributes compiled by the National Academy of Engineering as a personal remembrance of the lives and outstanding achievements of its members and international members. These volumes are intended to stand as an enduring record of the many contributions of engineers and engineering to the benefit of humankind. In most cases, the authors of the tributes are contemporaries or colleagues who had personal knowledge of the interests and the engineering accomplishments of the deceased.

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  • STANLEY CORRSIN 1920-1986

    BY HANS W. LIEPMANN

    Stanley Corrsin, Theophilus Halley Smoot Professor of Engineering at the Johns Hopkins University, died of cancer on June 2, 1986. With his death the community of researchers in and practitioners of fluid physics and fluid engineering lost one of its outstanding contributors. Many of us, including myself, lost a close friend.

    Dr. Corrsin was born on April 3, 1920, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He obtained a B.S. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1940 and entered the California Institute of Technology as a graduate student, finishing his M.S. in 1942 and his Ph.D. in 1947.

    The bulk of his research for the Ph.D. was actually finished in late 1943, but Corrsin came to Caltech at a time when a technologically unprepared United States faced the prospect of war and a modern air force had to be built in the shortest possible time. A deeper understanding of some of the fundamental problems of fluid mechanics had to be acquired by a small number of competent people to help in the design of advanced aircraft. Gifted graduate students thus were drawn immediately into research and development work, stretching their abilities and stamina to the limit.

    In the five years between receiving his M.S. and Ph.D., Corrsin not only finished a thesis on the flow of a turbulent jet, which became a classic in the field, but also participated in many other research and testing projects in progress at the time, including work on what was then a secret project to develop a laminar airfoil. He also served as an instructor in aeronautics. His outstanding writing ability—he had at one time considered becoming a professional writer—was quite evident and a great help to him, even at this early stage in his career.

    When Corrsin left Caltech in 1947 to become an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins University, he was already an acknowledged expert in turbulence research. The complex, fascinating field of turbulence in all of its manifestations remained his primary interest throughout his life, just as Johns Hopkins remained his permanent academic home.

    Corrsin advanced to the rank of associate professor of aeronautics in 1951 and then was named professor of mechanical engineering and chairman of the Mechanical Engineering Department in 1955. In line with changes in the departmental structure at Johns Hopkins, his affiliation changed twice: first to mechanics and materials science in 1960 and finally to chemical engineering in 1980. In 1981 he became the first Theophilus Halley Smoot Professor of Engineering and held a concurrent professorship in biomedical engineering at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

    Corrsin contributed successfully to experimental and theoretical research. He strove for clarity of aim and precision in execution in both theory and experiment, and he was willing and able to acquire the necessary tools to deal with any physical or applied problem of interest to him. For example, Corrsin was one of the very few researchers who familiarized themselves with diagram techniques, which at one time seemed to hold promise in attempts to clarify the sequence of nonlinear coupling terms in wavenumber space. His quest for clarity and precision had one negative result: He never finished the book he planned on fluid mechanics, which was to have been based on his lecture notes. I am given to understand, however, that these notes in the hands of his pupils have contributed much to the fluid mechanics courses in several university curricula.

    Short articles on dimensional analysis, the derivation of Eulers equations, and the interpretation of the viscous terms in the turbulent energy equation are further samples of Corrsin's serious concern for a correct simplicity in the teaching of fundamentals. He worked very hard and wrote easily. His hundred or so publications could easily have been doubled but for his pronounced self- criticism and urge for perfection. Corrsin's contribution to the Handbuch der Physik and to the Encyclopedic Dictionary of Physics on Experimentation in Turbulence Research is further proof of his more pedagogical interests, which culminated in a set of some twenty-five doctoral theses that were carried through under his guidance. Many of his Ph.D. students by now have made their own mark in various aspects of fluid mechanics.

    Corrsin contributed a number of lasting ideas and results—for example, as his first published paper shows, he recognized the so-called intermittency in turbulence as early as 1943. The first serious experimental verification of the concept of local isotropy is credited to him. The still lively discussions concerning the validity of gradient transport in turbulent shear flows could be much improved if the participants were to take the time to read Corrsin's publications dealing with the subject.

    He also contributed a number of nontrivial applications of stochastic theory to problems suggested by the turbulence field. These contributions included a study conducted with J. B. Morton of the statistical properties of the Duffing oscillator under random forcing, comparing various closure proposals for turbulence with the results from a Fokker-Planck solution.

    In later years, Corrsin developed an interest in medical and biological problems and brought his expertise with fluid flow to bear on a variety of subjects such as the motion of the precorneal fluid film of the eye and maternal blood flow in the placenta. His long-standing interest and competence in aerodynamics were applied to problems of bird flight. Premedical students at Johns Hopkins had the opportunity to take his rather unusual course "Animal Motion," which offered a rare chance to learn something about real applied mechanics.

    His list of fellowships and honors reflects the high esteem in which his contributions are held both here and abroad. He was a fellow of the American Physical Society, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He was named Docteur Honoris Causé of the University of Lyon and was elected to membership in the National Academy of Engineering in 1980. He also received the 1983 Fluid Dynamics Prize of the American Physical Society.

    In a field of long standing such as fluid mechanics—a field that is crucial for a host of engineering applications, but that still contains unresolved fundamental physics problems—spectacular breakthroughs are virtually nonexistent. Progress proceeds on a wide front in larger or smaller steps. Corrsin has contributed to the fields of aeronautical, chemical, and mechanical engineering as well as to the biological and physical sciences. In some of these steps, he will be remembered as an original and productive researcher. The people who knew him personally will remember Stan as an articulate, critical, but very warm personality with an unusually pleasant sense of humor.

    Corrsin is survived by his wife Barbara (née Dagett) and two children, Nancy Eliot and Stephen Davis.

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