Program History

SengersWallaceAfter a long and distinguished scientific career at the Technical University Delft in the Netherlands, Johannes (Jan) Burgers moved to the United States in 1955 to begin a second career as a research professor at the University of Maryland's Institute of Fluid Dynamics and Applied Mathematics (IFDAM). At IFDAM he found a new stimulating environment with colleagues like Shih-I Pai and Elliott W. Montroll and continued to be professionally active. The quarter century that Burgers spent at the University of Maryland was satisfying for him both scientifically and socially. At the University of Maryland he established a laboratory (see accompanying picture), began work on plasma dynamics and magnetohydrodynamics, continued his interest in philosophy and science, and further explored the implications of the non-linear equation named for him: the Burgers equation. This latter work eventually led to his monograph, "The Non-linear Diffusion Equation" in 1974; this monograph was reprinted by Kluwer in 2004 on the occasion of the inauguration of the Burgers Program for Fluid Dynamics to be discussed below. Burgers also became interested in high-speed gas dynamics (hypersonic flow and shock waves), a pursuit that resulted in an earlier monograph, "Flow Equations for Composite Gases" in 1969. A dinner was held in 1965 following a symposium organized in his honor on the occasion of his official retirement and his becoming a Professor Emeritus at age 70. After dinner Burgers, recalling his and his wife Annie's immigration to a new land, said "The way in which we were received at the University of Maryland…surpassed anything which we could have imagined when we came to America with the hope of settling here. We felt at home immediately and a deep love for this country has grown in us. The friendship which one can find in the United States and in particular in its scientific circles is a source of everlasting joy, which pervades all phases of one's life and one's work." His passionate interest in many aspects of fluid dynamics and life around him continued undiminished until his death at age 86 on June 7, 1981.

At the European Turbulence Conference in the summer of 1994 in Sienna, Italy, Jim Wallace met Frans Nieuwstadt, and they discussed the legacy of Jan Burgers whose birth centenary would occur the following year. Frans had been one of the founding organizers of the J.M. Burgers Centrum in the Netherlands two years earlier, and was planning a week-long celebration of the legacy of Burgers. Jim Wallace agreed to come to Delft for the centenary celebration in January of 1995 to represent the University of Maryland, where Burgers had made his second scientific career. They also talked about a reciprocal visit of Frans to College Park for a centenary celebration at the University of Maryland, to be held in May of that year. At the one-day symposium at Maryland, Burgers' long-time colleagues at the Institute for Physical Science and Technology or IPST (which IFDAM had become in 1975 after its merger with the Institute for Molecular Physics), Bob Dorfman, Allan Faller and Shih-I Pai, remembered Jan Burgers' wonderfully gentle and unassuming manner and his many contributions to the intellectual life of the university. Ron Armstrong, Ugo Piomelli and Jim Wallace spoke about aspects of Burgers' legacy in solid mechanics and turbulence research. The day was culminated with a lecture of Frans Nieuwstadt on "The Legacy of J.M. Burgers."

Katepalli Sreenivasan, then at Yale University, had been invited to the centenary symposium at Maryland. Although he could not attend, he wrote Jim Wallace to say that we at Maryland should continue to remember Jan Burgers and build on his legacy with an annual event. When Sreeni became Director of the Institute for Physical Science and Technology at the University of Maryland in 2002, he began raising funds to endow an annual Burgers Lectureship and together with Jan Sengers he put together a Burgers Board to organize this Lectureship. Frans Nieuwstadt spent several weeks at the University of Maryland in the Fall of 2003 and gave the first Burgers Lecture entitled "Resolving Reynolds' Riddle."

When Sreeni took a leave of absence from the University of Maryland to become Director of the International Center for Theoretical Physics in Trieste, Italy, Jan Sengers became Chair of the Burgers Board and brought great vigor to the task. He brought Jim Wallace onto the Burgers Board, and together they conceptualized a broad range of activities and participants constituting the Burgers Program in Fluid Dynamics. The Program describes itself as: "Inspired by the intellectual heritage of J.M. Burgers, the mission of the Burgers Program is to enhance the quality and international visibility of fluid dynamics research and educational programs at the University of Maryland with the help of an endowed Burgers Fund. Fluid dynamics in this context is viewed to include a broad range of dynamics, from nanoscales to geophysical scales, in simple and complex fluids." More than 60 faculty members spread over 18 different academic and research units in the College of Computer, Mathematical and Natural Sciences and the A. James Clark School of Engineering agreed to participate in the Burgers Program. It was agreed that the Program should invite a Burgers Visiting Professor each year. A website was created that can be seen at

The Burgers Program was inaugurated on November 18, 2004 with the first of its annual Burgers Symposia. Highlights of the day-long event were the remarks by Gijs Ooms, the Scientific Director of the J.M. Burgers Centrum (JMBC) in the Netherlands on "Life and work of J.M. Burgers in the Netherlands," remarks by Jan Sengers on "The Legacy of J.M. Burgers at Maryland" and the Burgers Keynote Lecture on the "Dynamics of Turbulent Shear Flows" by Bruno Eckhardt of the Philipps Universität, Marburg. The President of the University of Maryland, Dan Mote, and the Deans of the College of Computer, Mathematical and Natural Sciences and of the School of Engineering, Stephen Halperin and Nariman Farvardin, welcomed the more than 75 participants. Each succeeding year the Symposium has been held as a half-day event. The 2005 Burgers Keynote Lecture: "On Dynamical Models of Turbulence" was given by Charles Meneveau of Johns Hopkins University. In 2006 Gijs Ooms gave the Burgers Keynote Lecture:"How Particles Interact and Form Bridges in Shear Flow Near a Wall at Low Reynolds Number." In November of 2007 the Burgers Keynote Lecturer will be Detlef Lohse of the Twente University, as a representative of JMBC. In addition to several other invited talks, each year a poster session displaying current research of graduate students and post-docs is held, and two "best poster" certificates are awarded.

A program of visiting Burgers Faculty was initiated in 2004. Bruno Eckhardt was the first Burgers Visiting Professor during the 2004-2005 academic year. In the 2005-2006 academic year we enjoyed the visits of two Burgers Associate Professors: Sasa Kenjeres of JMBC at the Technical University in Delft and Serge Simoëns of the Ecole Centrale de Lyon, France. They interacted with several of the Maryland faculty during their visits. From May - July, 2007 Jerry Westerweel, Director of the Laboratory for Aero and Hydrodynamics of JMBC at the Technical University in Delft was our Burgers Visiting Professor. While at the University of Maryland, he and Ken Kiger of our Mechanical Engineering Department offered a short course on PIV, and Jerry finished the draft of a book on this widely used experimental technique.

In April 2005 the Burgers Program began interacting with the Center for Applied and Environmental Fluid Mechanics of Johns Hopkins University in organizing an annual graduate student/post-doctoral fellow showcase symposium. The venue for the symposium alternates between the two universities each year. After a keynote address by a faculty member from the visiting institution, students and research associates give short presentations on their research. Members of the fluid dynamics community from around the region are invited to attend the symposium with the hope that the presentations will interest these attendees and create employment opportunities for the presenters.

In the fall of 2005 the Burgers Program for Fluid Dynamics was recognized by the Graduate School of the University of Maryland as an interdisciplinary Field Committee. We subsequently received grants from the Graduate School to enhance graduate education in fluid dynamics at the university. We are exploring the possibility of jointly offering graduate courses with the Center for Applied and Environmental Fluid Mechanics of Johns Hopkins University at a site convenient to the two campuses, which are located in College Park and Baltimore respectively, about thirty miles apart.

A seminar series called Fluid Dynamics Reviews, which has continued uninterrupted for over forty years at the University of Maryland, has been incorporated into the Burgers Program. It is supported by the Minta Martin research fund. The format allows for faculty and their students and post-docs from the Burgers Program as well as for visitors to give presentations five or six times each semester. The seminar series has sponsored the visits of a long list of very distinguished speakers over the many years it has been a part of the campus' intellectual life.

The partnership of our Burgers Program with the JMBC was celebrated with a oneday symposium at the Technical University Delft on January 12, 2006. This symposium attracted about 200 participants. Our Burgers 2004-2005 Visiting Professor, Bruno Eckhardt, was the keynote lecturer, and Jan Sengers and Ken Kiger from our Program also gave lectures, as did Sasa Kenjeres, one of the two 2005-2006 Burgers Visiting Associate Professors.

The legacy of Johannes Burgers continues to live and grow at the University of Maryland. We are sure he would be pleased to know that his energetic pursuit of such a wide range of research avenues in the field of fluid dynamics after his arrival here in 1955 is being carried on, under the aegis of an interdisciplinary program bearing his name, in departments and research units across the campus of the University of Maryland.

Burgers, Awards and Medals, and Posterity

by K.R. Sreenivasan

SreeniFor a year and some months, I was the Director of the Institute of Physical Science and Technology (IPST) at the University of Maryland. IPST is the heir to the Institute for Fluid Dynamics and Applied Mathematics in which J.M. Burgers (1895-1981) worked for some 25 years. Burgers was a leading fluid dynamicist of the twentieth century and his name is alive in the scientific community because of Burgers Equation, Burgers Vector, Burgers Vortex ¾ to name but a few. Burgers was directly involved in the creation of the International Union of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics and served as its first secretary-general.

One day out of curiosity I was wading through the junk that was relegated to a back room in the Computer Science Building (where IPST has some offices, including that of its Director). I was jolted when I came upon in a dusty corner the various medals and awards that Burgers had received, along with a few photographs and letters. I was jolted in two respects. Firstly, the idea that these memorabilia would somehow be consigned to junk for some 20 years after Burgers had died made no sense. The greater impact came from the second thought: “Is this how all the honors of a lifetime, perhaps cherished by the recipient, will end up eventually ¾ unknown to anyone, uncared for by posterity?” Note that, during my term as Director of IPST, there was nothing at the University that would especially remind one of Burgers!

I knew that something had to be done quickly, especially because people like Jan Sengers, Bob Dorfman and Jim Wallace who knew Burgers well had already retired, or would soon retire: If we didn’t do anything in a short span of time, Burgers would be lost to the University forever. I started talking to the fluid dynamicists of the University and the IPST faculty about setting up a Fund for supporting intellectual activities in Burgers’ name. I myself contributed some money but it was the generous reception to the idea by all concerned that ultimately led to the formation of the Burgers Program at the University. Jim Wallace and Jan Sengers have given me credit for initiating the effort, but they were the ones who created something concrete out of a vague, if enthusiastic, beginning. A few of the memorabilia that I retrieved are now displayed in the IPST building, thanks to Jan. I also provided copies of letters and photographs to the Burgers archives in the Netherlands.

This episode shows me that a good idea may survive among people who have an institutional sense; in this instance, the idea gained momentum in large part because of the distinction of Burgers himself. The outcome raised my hope that the posterity will somehow find a way to remember the extraordinary people of the scientific community. Perhaps Burgers himself might have liked this thought.