Today, a 120-year journey into space. The
University of Houston's College of Engineering
presents this series about the machines that make
our civilization run, and the people whose
ingenuity created them.
Horace Lamb, son of a
British cotton-mill developer, was born in 1849 and
raised by a Puritan aunt. He found his way to
Cambridge University, where he studied under both
Maxwell and Stokes -- familiar names if you've ever
studied fluid mechanics. Lamb was very bright, and
he stayed on as a junior faculty member.
But junior faculty at Cambridge had to remain
celibate. So, in 1875, 26-year-old Horace Lamb
married his aunt's young sister-in-law and moved to
the new University of Adelaide in Southern
Australia. In his ten years there he proved to be a
Lamb was teaching in Adelaide when he published his
Hydrodynamics, the finest and
longest-lasting fluid mechanics text ever written.
Lamb edited the sixth edition of that book 53 years
later, when I was a toddler. I studied from Lamb's
Hydrodynamics in the 1960s, and it's still
in print! Another person who studied Lamb's
wonderful old book, long after I did, was astronaut
Andrew Thomas. And, even as I write this episode,
Thomas is up on the Mir Space Station studying the
subtle movements of liquids when they're freed from
gravity -- when they have literally shaken off the
surly bonds of earth.
Now the surprise: Thomas did his Ph.D. in fluid
mechanics at the University of Adelaide. He took
his courses in the Horace Lamb Lecture Theatre
there. I suppose that could pass for simple
coincidence. But not after you've read Lamb's
Read about the equations for surface-tension waves
and liquid-vapor stability. After I'd read Lamb,
NASA engaged me to study the mechanisms of vapor
removal from a heater as gravity is removed. For
twenty years I worked on those problems, always
with Lamb at my elbow. Now Thomas writes this from
I easily create perfect spheres of water floating
in front of me. I inject air into one and make a
spherical shell of water, using the self-centering
action of surface tension forces. I watch water
climb the length of soda straw under the force of
surface tension unopposed by gravity. All this was
described by Lamb.
The great problem posed by liquid in a space
vehicle is making it go where you want it to go.
NASA uses the old English word ullage, which
once referred to the empty space in a wine keg.
Whether you're dealing with a liquid oxygen
container, a water tank, or an orange juice bag,
you won't get liquid out unless it finds its way
around the empty ullage space to the spigot.
When we read Lamb's 120-year-old bible of fluid
behavior, we know he's up there on Mir, along with
Andy Thomas, helping us to make liquids behave
without the guiding hand of gravity. Is all this
mere coincidence? Of course it is. But that doesn't
stop me from seeing the ghost of one the great
teachers of all time come back to guide other hands
long after his death. For doesn't the ghost of any
great teacher always do just exactly that?
I'm John Lienhard, at the University of Houston,
where we're interested in the way inventive minds