UC Berkeley, LBNL mathematician awarded major international prize in applied mathematics

By Robert Sanders, Public Affairs

BERKELEY--A new international prize in applied mathematics, the Maxwell Prize, has been awarded to acclaimed mathematician Grigory Isaakovich Barenblatt of the University of California, Berkeley, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

A professor in residence in mathematics at UC Berkeley and a researcher in the Computing Sciences/Mathematics Department at LBNL, Barenblatt, 72, is known for his analysis of problems dominated by complexity, such as turbulence, failure and cracks in solids, flow in porous and inhomogeneous media, and combustion. His work on crack formation provided some of the basic tools used today in the analysis of failure, especially failure due to fatigue.

"The range of Barenblatt's achievements is truly breathtaking," the organization stated in awarding the prize.

UC Berkeley mathematics department chair Calvin Moore said, "We are very pleased and proud that Grisha's path-breaking work has been recognized by this important award."

The Maxwell Prize was established this year by the International Congress on Industrial and Applied Mathematics (ICIAM) and awarded for the first time on July 5 at its quadrennial meeting in Edinburgh, Scotland. Named after 19th-century Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell, the prize was one of four new prizes established to recognize outstanding achievements in applied mathematics, and to serve as counterpoints to the Fields Medal in pure mathematics - an honor often called the Nobel Prize of mathematics.

"When in Edinburgh to accept the prize, I came to understand much more about Clerk Maxwell, one of Scotland's most outstanding scientists, and it is a great honor to receive the prize," Barenblatt said.

One of Russia's most distinguished applied mathematicians, Barenblatt is well-known for his numerous contributions to the mathematical theory of fluid motion, solid structure, nonlinear waves, scaling and asymptotics. His two dominant interests are the clear understanding of the mathematical underpinnings of various methods of applied mathematics and physics, and the analysis of problems dominated by complexity.

The international group also noted that, "Though all of his work is extremely original, the development of the theory of incomplete similarity, in particular its unexpected applications in fluid mechanics as well as its relation with renormalization, is probably the most original aspect of this work; the most original part of an original corpus."

Barenblatt, a student of the great Russian mathematician A. N. Kolmogorov, received both his undergraduate and graduate degrees (PhD 1953) in mechanics and mathematics from Moscow University, where he went on to obtain a DSc in 1957. In 1953 he joined the Institute of Petroleum of the USSR Academy of Sciences as a research scientist. He returned to Moscow University as head of the mechanics of solids department in 1961, a position he held until 1975. In that year he assumed leadership of the theoretical department of the Institute of Oceanology of the Academy of Sciences, a position he held until 1992. After several years as a visiting professor at institutions in Europe and the United States, he settled in Berkeley in 1997.

"Berkeley is an ideal place for me," Barenblatt said. "Every day we meet and discuss problems, find new questions, think about them through the night, then meet again the next day to discuss our progress. We work seven days a week - we regret we have only 24 hours in a day."

Barenblatt's principal colleague at UC Berkeley is Alexandre Chorin, a renowned professor of mathematics who also has an appointment at LBNL. Together they have made important advances in understanding turbulence, "one of the last unsolved problems in classical physics," Barenblatt said.

Using concepts of nonlinear dynamics and what has come to be called chaos theory, Barenblatt and Chorin have shown that some common assumptions about turbulence are wrong. They also are applying such analysis to the problem of how cracks in rock affect the movement or propagation of chemical and radioactive waste

Among his many honors, Barenblatt is a foreign associate of both the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering and a foreign honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

The Maxwell Prize is funded by the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications and the James Clerk Maxwell Foundation to provide international recognition to a mathematician who has demonstrated originality in applied mathematics.

The three other new prizes are the Lagrange Prize, awarded to individual mathematicians who have made exceptional contributions to applied mathematics throughout their career; the Lothar Collatz Prize, awarded to an individual scientist under 42 years of age for outstanding work in industrial and applied mathematics; and the SIAM Pioneer Prize, awarded for pioneering work introducing applied mathematical methods and scientific computing techniques to an industrial problem area or new scientific field of applications.

The Lagrange Prize was awarded to Jacques-Louis Lions; the Collatz Prize to Stefan Muller, a director of the Max Planck Institute for Mathematics in Germany; and the Pioneer Prize was shared by Ronald Coifman of Yale University and Helmut Neunzert of the University of Kaiserslautern, Germany.

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