[SIGCIS-Members] Historical Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) Software

Patrick Graham graha827 at umn.edu
Tue Sep 22 11:29:25 PDT 2020

Dear Ulf,

This set of problems is indeed very important to the history of computing,
by my count. I recall a particularly powerful letter from Von Neumann to
Oswald Veblen, sent by Von Neumann during a 1943 visit to the UK [my
emphasis added]:

“I think that I see clearly that the best course for me at present is to
concentrate on Ordinance work, and the Gas Dynamical matters connected
therewith. I think I have learned here a good deal of experimental physics,
particularly of the Gas Dynamical variety, and that I shall return a better
and *impurer* man. I have also developed an *obscene* interest in
computational techniques. I am looking forward to discussing these matters
with you. I really feel like proselytizing — even if I am going to tell you
only things which you have known much longer than I did.” (Quoted in full
in Bill Aspray’s *John Von Neumann and the Origins of Modern Computing*,
27. Original letter from 21 May 1943, Oswald Veblen Papers, Library of

That Von Neumann spent some time at the Nautical Almanac Office (L.J.
Comrie’s old haunt) during this trip is, I think, significant.

I have recently enjoyed thinking about these matters along lines outlined
by Robert Moir in his chapter “Feasible Computation: Methodological
Contributions from Computer Science” in *Physical Perspectives on
Computation, Computational Perspectives on Physics*, ed. Michael E. Cuffaro
and Samuel C. Fletcher (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018).

Perhaps these “feasible computations” are quite central to the history of
modern computing, although I am not entirely convinced by Moir’s claim that
we can “trace the historical origins of the … approximate form of [feasible
computation] to techniques developed by physicists to overcome  the
computational limitations of the mathematical formulation of theories and
models of natural phenomenon.” (see “Feasible Computation,” 174).

I’m afraid that I don’t possess the technical expertise to be of much more
help in terms of 20th century “fluid dynamics,” but if your work on
feasible methods ever brings you back to the 17th century (as it did Herman
Goldstine in his *History of Numerical Analysis*), please drop me a line!


Patrick Graham

Graduate student at the University of Minnesota Program in the History of
Science, Technology and Medicine

On Tue, Sep 22, 2020 at 1:09 AM Ulf Hashagen <u.hashagen at deutsches-museum.de>

> Dear colleagues,
> I became interested in the history of "Computational Fluid Dynamics
> (CFD) Software" last week, but could not find much historical source
> material on this topic so far. May I ask for your advice and comments?
> Best, Ulf
> --
> PD Dr. Ulf Hashagen
> Leitung / Head
> Forschungsinstitut für Technik- und Wissenschaftsgeschichte / The Research
> Institute for the History of Science and Technology
> Deutsches Museum
> Museumsinsel 1
> 80538 München / Munich
> Germany
> Tel. +49/(0)89/2179-453
> Fax  +49/(0)89/2179-239
> u.hashagen at deutsches-museum.de
> http://www.deutsches-museum.de/forschung/wissenschaftl-mitarbeiter/pd-dr-ulf-hashagen/
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