Obituary: Professor Brian Helliwell

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The Independent Online
John Brian Helliwell, applied mathematician, born York 2 January 1924, Professor of Engineering Mathematics Bradford University 1968-85, married 1951 Joyce Hutchinson (three daughters), died Leeds 14 July 1992.

BRIAN HELLIWELL was a Yorkshireman and a distinguished applied mathematician.

After obtaining a first class honours degree in mathematics at Leeds University in 1945 he was, like many of his contemporaries, directed to undertake his war service in government and industrial scientific establishments. He spent time at the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough, and at the gas department of Metro Vickers, Manchester. He then returned to Leeds to study for a doctorate, on 'control theory'.

Helliwell then entered an academic career. After short stays at Birmingham and Manchester, he moved to what is now Strathclyde University and became a Reader in gas dynamics. He made his final career move in 1968 to Bradford University, to become its first professor of engineering mathematics.

After Helliwell's early work in control and then in astrophysics, in the mid-Fifties his research interests changed to gas dynamics, focusing on the flow of gases at transonic speeds. With aircraft being designed to fly at high subsonic and supersonic speeds, work in this field was most pressing. The mathematics involved was very complex and solutions at that time had to be found without the help of powerful computers. He made considerable contributions to this work, published in various journals.

In the early 1960s he turned his attention to the field of magneto- gas dynamics. His best contribution to scientific knowledge was his pioneering work in this area which dealt with the flow of a conductive gas in a magnetic field. He was particularly concerned with shock waves and combustion waves, but also did work on the effects of thermal radiation.

Brian Helliwell was well known and liked in the world of applied mathematicians and was a regular member at the annual meetings of the British Theoretical Mechanics Colloquium from its founding in the late 1950s. He was also an influential member of the Yorkshire Applied Maths Colloquium. For his contributions to mathematics he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and also a Fellow of the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications.

The chair of engineering mathematics at Bradford University, of which he was the first holder, was created because of the importance of mathematics in engineering. It was appreciated that mathematics should be an integral part of an engineer's training and that it should not be taught as an isolated subject. He and his staff collaborated closely with the various engineering departments to ensure that this was the case.

In later years Helliwell became more involved with the university administration, an area in which, because of his temperament and meticulous attention to detail, he was very able. He was Dean of the Board of Studies in Engineering, and from 1980 to 1983 a Pro Vice- Chancellor. During this period of office he was a considerable asset in helping the university with drastic reductions in its finances and staffing-levels.

In 1985, for health reasons, he took early retirement. He moved to his much-loved north Yorkshire, where he took great delight in his garden. If it is true that one can choose friends but not family, then his many friends and his wife Joyce chose very wisely, while his three daughters have been very fortunate. Brian Helliwell was a good man with a true sense of humility.

(Photograph omitted)