Selig Brodetsky

Born: 10 Feb 1888 in Olviopol (near Odessa), Ukraine
Died: 18 May 1954 in England

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Selig Brodetsky was from a large family. His parents were both Russian Jews and his father, tired of the harassment which the family were suffering in Russia, decided to move to London. He moved to the East End of London, leaving his wife, Selig and three other young children in Russia. He managed to earn enough to support his family and he wrote asking them to join him in London.

Their journey across Europe was a difficult one described in [1]:-

Little Selig, then a child of four, retained to the end of his life, a vivid memory of their hiding in a hen-coop till nightfall when a kindly officer in charge of Frontier Forces signalled them out of the darkness that now was the time to cross the frontier. His baby sister started to cry at this critical time but her mother pushed her shawl into the child's mouth and so silenced her.
In London they made a living from sowing with the children earning a little to help by packing matches into boxes. When Brodetsky was old enough to attend school he went to the Jew's Free School in London. From there he went to the Central Foundation School. He was awarded a scholarship to study mathematics at Trinity College, Cambridge.

Brodetsky achieved a very fine record at Cambridge. He graduated in 1908 being placed as bracketed Senior Wrangler (first equal). In 1910 Brodetsky was awarded the Isaac Newton Scholarship which enabled him to study at Leipzig for his doctorate.

The University of Leipzig awarded Brodetsky a doctorate in 1913 and he returned to England in 1914 where he accepted a lectureship in Applied Mathematics at the University of Bristol. In 1919 Brodetsky moved to the University of Leeds, first as a lecturer, then as a Reader. He was appointed as the first holder of the Chair of Applied Mathematics at Leeds in 1924.

Brodetsky's work was mainly on aerodynamics and fluid mechanics. His papers include work on the stability of a parachute and fluid flow past circular and elliptic cylinders. He published The mechanical principles of the aeroplane in 1921.

He also wrote the book A first course in nomography in 1920. A nomograph was widely used in engineering and in industry. It is a graphic representation that consists of several lines with scales arranged so that by using a straight edge between known values on two lines an unknown value can be read at the intersection with a third line.

Lecturing seems to have been one of Brodetsky's real strengths. His abilities in this area are described in [1] as follows:-

As a university teacher for students he could hardly be surpassed. Day in, day out, he kept them spell-bound. His subject matter, clarity of exposition, style of delivery, choice of phraseology made an indelible impression on all his listeners whether derived from the Faculties of Arts, Science or Technology. In addition to purely routine standard mathematics, he made mathematical personalities and the history of mathematics live down the centuries by his vivid presentation. ... On one occasion, he gave a lecture on Sir Isaac Newton in a room in the university constructed to seat an audience of 250. 400 turned up and were all accommodated, sitting or standing.
In 1948 he retired from Leeds University and went to Jerusalem to become the President of the Hebrew University there. After suffering a heart attack he returned to England in 1951 and led a quite life for his last few years in contract to the hectic lifestyle he had led for most of his life.

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JOC/EFR April 1997