This is often the response when someone discovers DAMTP has a fluid dynamics laboratory. From the time DAMTP first moved to the Press Site in 1964, mathematicians, along with a scattering of physicists and engineers visiting the department, wet their hands in the `wetting cellar' of the old University Press building.
George Batchelor had studied under Sir G. I. Taylor, regarded as the father of modern fluid mechanics in the Cavendish Laboratory. Under GI's tutelage George realised that laboratory experiments were a critical component of research in fluid mechanics. After DAMTP was founded in 1959 George argued that the department needed a laboratory. Against significant opposition from the others in the university, George prevailed and established the first fluid mechanics laboratory in a mathematics department.
The photograph shows GI with his research group including George Batchelor and Stewart Turner, who was the Director of the laboratory from 1970 - 1975, in 1955.
For nearly forty years the laboratory thrived, despite a lack of adequate drainage, low ceilings, and increasingly cramped conditions. A symbiosis developed where the interplay between experimental studies and other modelling activities led to the experiments found in DAMTP being quite different to those found in most other deparments. The experiments provide answers to questions that help us construct and validate appropriate mathematical models. The art is in designing a simple experiment capable of answering a generic question.
Despite years of wonderful experiments at the Press Site, eventually the laboratory was relocated to its current location: the CMS. Completion of the Centre for Mathematical Sciences in 2002 marked a major leap forward for the laboratory, now known as the GK Batchelor Laboratory. The impact of improvements like floor level drains, high ceiings, and salt water on-tap has been profound, but even more important is the additional space that has allowed activities to branch out and flourish. Granular flows and biological physics are just two of the new areas that have developed since the move.
The present day laboratory boasts 820 sq. m**** of useable laboratory space hidden beneath the CMS site. The GK Batchelor Laboratory is first and foremost a research facility, but teaching, education and public engagement continue to play an important role. The long standing laboratory demonstrations for Part III students are now complemented by a more focused course for Part II students. Summer schools, for both PhD students and postdocs, have been a regular feature of the calendar, as have public open days. Be sure to visit the events page to find out more information of upcoming events and explore some of the historical events at DAMTP.