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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Owen Phillips, R.I.P.

This post today is a memorial which may be unusual for this blog in general, but Owen Phillips (1930-2010) is an exceptionally eminent scientist in modern ocean wave studies who had passed away over a month ago and the news has just now come to my attention. It will be a stretch to say that he is a friend -- only to the extent that I usually shake hand with him whenever I see him in a conference. Some of my friends are his Hopkins students. I am just an admirer, if not a fan, of Owen Phillips. When some of my friends call him Owen, I always feel comfortable to call him Prof. Phillips.


I guess it's generally acceptable to think that all ocean wave aficionados know about Phillips-Miles theory as the corner stone of modern ocean wave studies. In 1957, independently Phillips and John W. Miles (1920-2008) published separate ocean wave theories in Journal of Fluid Mechanics. Phillips treats the resonance between turbulent atmospheric pressure on ocean surface, while Miles concerns hydrodynamical stability between surface waves and the atmospheric boundary layer. The combination of their theories constitute the linear basis of ocean wave models. Phillips also advanced the concept of equilibrium range in the spectrum of ocean waves that provided wave data analyst like me ample opportunities to play with wave spectrum data. Phillips also studied extreme waves theoretically with his students in the 1990's which has received less attention in the freaque waves community.

So one can safely regard Owen Phillips as one of the academic giants on the 20th century. I met him from time to time in different conferences, I wish I could be more assertive to talk to him more and learn from him. In one particular occasion he had some kind words on a poster paper I presented. I could pursue it deeper with him on that. Only much later did I realized that was a missed opportunity on my part. Prof. Phillips, R.I.P.

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