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Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics


Professor David George Crighton

[David Crighton]15 November 1942 - 12 April 2000

Memorial Service

A Memorial Service for David George Crighton was held in Great St. Mary's Church, Cambridge on Saturday 3 June at 2.30pm. The address was given by Prof. J.E. Ffowcs Williams.


Eulogy for David George Crighton

Delivered at the Funeral on 20 April 2000 in Jesus College Chapel

As evidenced by your presence here today and the many hundreds of heart-felt messages already received, David was a deeply loved, greatly admired, remarkable individual - a man of enormous energy and warmth, whose flame burnt brightly until just days before the end of his life. More ...

Herbert Huppert


Obituary in The Telegraph: 24 April 2000

This has not appeared on The Telegraph WWW pages. The version available here is that submitted to the paper.

David Crighton, who has died aged 57,was a leader in the fields of Fluid Mechanics and Applied Mathematics, influencing their progress nationally and internationally through his contributions both to research and administration. More ...

John Rallison


[David Crighton]Obituaries in The Independent: 21 April 2000

David Crighton, Master of Jesus College, Cambridge, since 1997 and Professor of Applied Mathematics at Cambridge University since 1986, was probably the most respected head of Mathematics department in Britain. He was a superb mathematical researcher, an excellent academic administrator and a very good friend. More ...

J.E. Ffowcs Williams

David Crighton was born in 1942 in Llandudno, where his parents had gone to escape the German bombing. For similar reasons I was born, in the same year, in Oxford. We grew up within 10 miles of each other but didn't meet at this time, at least not to my knowledge. More ...

Stephen Hawking


Obituary in The Guardian: 19 April 2000

A brilliant mathematician and aeroacoustic theorist, his dynamism inspired researchers at Leeds and students at his Cambridge college.

Professor David Crighton, head of the department of applied mathematics and theoretical physics (DAMTP) at Cambridge University, and master of Jesus College, who has died of cancer aged 57, was for the last decade the undisputed leader of the applied mathematics community in Britain. More ...

Tim Pedley


Obituary in The Times: 19 April 2000

An influential career in applied mathematics, spurred by a schoolmaster who said he would be no good

As head of the department of applied mathematics and theoretical physics in Cambridge since 1991, and as Master of Jesus College since 1997, David Crighton carried a considerable burden of responsibility, and he did so with a remarkable combination of authority, wisdom and energy. 

The version printed in The Times was edited from the original full version.

Keith Moffatt


Announcement from the Chairman of the Faculty: 13 April 2000

I write to inform you that the funeral service of David Crighton will take place at 2:15 pm on Thursday 20 April in Jesus College Chapel. Black gowns may be worn. There will be a reception in the Master's Lodge following the funeral. Because Jesus College Chapel is one of the smallest in Cambridge, it is anticipated that the funeral service will be attended mainly by family, members of Jesus College, friends and close colleagues. There will be a memorial service at a date to be decided sometime in the future.

Herbert Huppert


Announcement from the Chairman of the Faculty: 12 April 2000

It is with deepest sadness that I inform you of the peaceful death of David Crighton today, Wednesday 12 April, at 1:00 p.m. in Addenbrooke's Hospital. His wife, Johanna, and his children, Beth and Ben, were with him throughout his last days. He fought vigorously and courageously against cancer for more than a year, working for his department, college and colleagues until a week before his death.

David came to Cambridge in 1986 after an already distinguished career in Leeds and London. In 1991 he became the Head of DAMTP, a role he filled with enormous energy and vision. He was loved and admired by us all. His help, encouragement and warmth to a multitude of friends and colleagues in DAMTP and around the world will leave a lasting legacy.

His early death is a tragic loss to us all.

Herbert Huppert


[David Crighton]A Brief Biography

David George Crighton was born in 1942 at Llandudno, where his parents had been moved to escape the bombing of London. His education, at Watford Grammar School, took a remarkable change of direction in the lower sixth when a master observed `whatever else, he will never be any good at mathematics'. Never fearful of a challenge, he abandoned A-levels in Greek, Latin and Ancient History (in which he showed great talent) for A-levels in double mathematics and physics. He entered St. John's College in 1961 and went down in 1964 with Firsts in Parts I and II of the Mathematical Tripos. He then made the conscious decision not to stay on for Part III but to teach mathematics at the Woolwich Polytechnic (now the University of Greenwich). There he taught a broad spectrum of mathematics for up to twenty-three hours a week and learned the techniques of crowd control. He recalled poignantly when, during a three-hour evening class for several dozen `mature students' doing ONC or OND in engineering with subsidiary mathematics, one or two members of the leather-and-studs-clad class, understandably bored with trying to understand logarithms or to remember the formula for sin (A+B), would pull out a knife and fastidiously inspect its blade for sharpness.

Then he met John Ffowcs Williams, at that time Reader in Mathematics at Imperial College and became his research assistant at less than a quarter of his salary as a Senior Lecturer at Woolwich Polytechnic. His Ph.D. at Imperial College followed in 1969 and he remained there as a research assistant until 1974 when he was appointed a Research Associate in the Department of Engineering in Cambridge. He visited the Engineering Department only once as he was immediately, quite out of the blue, appointed Professor of Applied Mathematics at the University of Leeds. His twelve very active years in Leeds gave him his first experience of academic management and his first Ph.D. students. He returned to Cambridge in 1986 as Professor of Applied Mathematics and became Head of DAMTP in 1991. He was a Fellow of St. John's College from 1986 until his appointment as Master of Jesus College in 1997.

Professor Crighton's scientific interests were primarily in waves and the mathematical description of physical properties, interests which often took him into other areas of fluid mechanics. He published over 120 papers and one book, and supervised several dozen Ph.D students. He was elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 1993. The distinction of his work was also recognised by the award of the Rayleigh Medal of the Institute of Acoustics, the Per Bruel Gold Medal of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and the Otto Laporte Award of the American Physical Society.

He did much to promote applied mathematics in the UK and beyond. He was appointed the founding President of the European Mechanics Society in 1993. He also served on many other bodies including a term as President of the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications, during which period his innovative venture in bringing together the Presidents of the UK's three main mathematical and statistical societies meant that they could speak authoritatively on behalf of the whole community, to Government, Research Councils and like bodies.

In addition to his major influence on applied mathematics, David also made a considerable impact on mathematics education. He was Chair of the Joint Mathematical Council of the United Kingdom for the period 1988 - 91, during which time he successfully forged much needed links between the mathematics community and the mathematics education community. He was responsible for two major initiatives.

[David Crighton]The first was the idea of a travelling mathematics exhibition that would help to improve the image of mathematics with the general public, for which he was largely responsible for securing the necessary funding. Known as the `Pop Maths Roadshow', it toured all over the UK, creating a great deal of interest.

The second was the idea of a biennial conference concerned with all aspects of teaching mathematics, from primary school to higher education. Again, he was responsible for getting sufficient funding to cover the organisation of the first conference, known as the British Congress of Mathematics.

Away from fluid mechanics his passion was for music, including opera. He was an authority on Wagner and wrote for an international magazine. He attended the Bayreuth Festival annually from his first visit, when an undergraduate, in 1962 until the onset of his illness. He held firmly to the view that there was only one better thing than a good performance of a favourite opera and that was two good performances of that favourite opera or, as in the case of Pfitzner's Palestrina, which was performed at Covent Garden in 1997 some 80 years after its first performance, all six good performances. A few weeks before his death he conducted his College orchestra in a performance of the Overture to Tannhäuser. He and Johanna promoted concerts, including three extraordinary piano recitals by the great Russian pianist Tatiana Nikolaeva, and Johanna has now founded a series of concerts in his memory. In her own words, speaking of the first of these, held in May 2001, "Music was so much part of him. The concert and the CDs were just what he himself would have loved".

David Crighton's philosophy was quite counter to that of another eminent Cambridge mathematician, G.H. Hardy, who took the pessimistic view that `most people can do nothing well' - David asserted that `most people can do something well if they put their minds and energies to it'. Or as Thomas Edison put it: `If we all did the things we are capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves'.