Emeritus Professor Malcolm Bloor
Colleagues will be sorry to learn of the death, on 27 August 2021, of Emeritus Professor Malcolm Bloor, former Professor of Mathematical Engineering. The following obituary has been contributed by a small group of Malcolm's long-term colleagues and friends.
Malcolm Bloor was raised in the great tradition of British applied mathematics in which mathematics is used to model, and to gain insight into, real-world problems; throughout his career he exemplified this approach to applied mathematics. Malcolm obtained a BSc in Mathematics from the University of Manchester in 1962, and his PhD in Applied Mathematics from Manchester in 1966. His career at Leeds began in 1964 as an assistant lecturer in the department of Applied Mathematical Studies. Following promotions to lecturer, senior lecturer and reader, he obtained his chair in 1993.
Malcolm’s early research concerned hypersonic flow past a blunt body, an area of practical significance to aerospace research at the time. Much of his subsequent research centred on fluid mechanics, and the range of applications he considered was immense: blood flow; water waves; high-speed fluid jets; shock diffraction; vortex dynamics; boundary-layer flow; rotating flow. Later in his career, Malcolm used his trademark ability – to combine mathematical expertise and physical intuition – in order to develop a novel parameterized optimization approach to the mathematical modelling of complex geometric surfaces for Computer Aided Design, applying the method to a range of industrial applications in, for example, aerodynamics (e.g. for NASA), engine design, and boat design.
In considering such diverse problems, Malcolm always developed bespoke, independent approaches rather than relying on the models of others. He possessed the rare gift of being able to analyse a physical situation, to abstract what was essential, and to develop a suitable mathematical model to describe it. The model could be sophisticated, or it could be simple. What mattered to Malcolm was the practical question of whether or not the model could give insight into the problem. This philosophy was summarised succinctly in his advice to students and colleagues alike that “the problem should drive the mathematics”.
Malcolm’s practical good sense was not confined to applied mathematics. Just as he was able to consider a physical problem afresh, analysing it without prior assumptions in order to develop a practical solution, so also could he apply the same approach to problems in the real world of people. Although most people consider a situation from only the point of view of their own interests, Malcolm was able to consider a problem from every angle and, after cogitation, to come up with a workable solution. He put this ability to good effect during his time as Head of Department of Applied Mathematics (1993-1996), and also, more significantly, as Director of the School Strategy Group, then as Chair of the School of Mathematics (1999-2001), during which he served on the University’s Academic Development Committee and was able to put in place a recovery strategy for the School that saved it from an imminent down-sizing in the late 1990s. It is this strategy that Malcolm implemented that laid the foundations for, an academic generation later, the current strength of the School.
Although a modest, quiet man, Malcolm nevertheless inspired confidence in colleagues of being a person whose judgement mattered and on whom they could rely. He had a well-developed sense of justice, and never baulked from speaking up on behalf of the School or Department, even when personal self-interest might have dictated otherwise. He also took a keen interest in the careers and interests of students, supervising over 40 research students during his career, and the generous and supportive mentoring of younger colleagues earned him their career-long admiration and respect.
Whether with family, friends or colleagues, Malcolm was the very best: generous to a fault, fun to be with, and a man of integrity who stood up for what he believed in. The School owes a great deal to him collectively and individually, and no words can describe our gratitude. He will be greatly missed.
Malcolm is survived by his wife Susan, children Robert and Christina, and grandchildren.