"Audacity or Precision": The Paradoxes of Henri Villat's Fluid Mechanics in Interwar France

Preprint English OPEN
Aubin , David (2010)
  • Publisher: HAL CCSD
  • Subject: aéronautique | [ MATH.MATH-HO ] Mathematics [math]/History and Overview [math.HO] | première guerre mondiale | World War I | hydrodynamique | résistance des fluides | [ SHS.HISPHILSO ] Humanities and Social Sciences/History, Philosophy and Sociology of Sciences | Hydrodynamics | histoire des sciences | History of Science | Aeronautics | Fluid Resistance | mécanique des fluides | Henri Villat | Fluid Mechanics | Mathematics - History and Overview

In Interwar France, Henri Villat became the true leader of theoretical researches on fluid mechanics. Most of his original work was done before the First World War; it was highly theoretical and its applicability was questioned. After having organized the first post-WWI International Congress of Mathematicians in 1920, Villat became the editor of the famous Journal de math\'ematiques pure et appliqu\'es and the director of the influential book series "M\'emorial des sciences math\'ematiques." From 1929 on, he held the fluid mechanics chair established by the Air Ministry at the Sorbonne in Paris and was heading the government's critical effort invested in fluid mechanics. However, while both his wake theory and his turbulence theory seemingly had little success outside France or in the aeronautical industry (except in the eyes of his students), applied mathematics was despised by the loud generation of Bourbaki mathematicians coming of age in the mid 1930s. How are we to understand the contrasted assessments one can make of Villat's place in the history of fluid mechanics?
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