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Person of the Week: Nikolai Zhukovsky

Published: February 9, 2020

This week, our feature is Николай Жуковский (Nikolai Zhukovsky), a Russian scientist perhaps best known as a founding figure in the fields of aerodynamics and hydrodynamics. Born not far from Moscow in 1847, Zhukovsky initially intended to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a railway-engineer. However, Zhukovsky eventually enrolled at Moscow University in the Physics-Mathematics department. Following his graduation from university with a degree in applied mechanics, he began to teach mathematics at various secondary schools, eventually becoming a professor at the Imperial Moscow Technical School (which is now the Bauman Moscow State Technical University). He founded the world’s first aerodynamic institute in the village of Kuchino near Moscow in 1902, and three years later, he was elected president of the Moscow Mathematical Society. Throughout his academic career, Zhukovsky made a number of significant scientific advances, including creating a mathematical explanation of hydrodynamic lift, building the first wind tunnel in Russia, and establishing the Zhukovsky transform, a principle of applied mathematics (named for Zhukovsky) that has been hugely influential in the field of aerodynamics. Zhukovsky received numerous accolades both during his life and posthumously, and his name has been given to a crater on the moon, a city outside moscow, a state prize for the best work in mathematics, the Russian Air Force’s Engineering Academy, an airport in Moscow, and the Russian Central Aero-Hydrodynamic Institute.