German Society for Applied Mathematics and Mechanics

The German Society for Applied Mathematics and Mechanics

On 21 September 1922 the German Society for Applied Mathematics and Mechanics (GAMM) was founded at a meeting in Leipzig. It split off from the German Mathematical Society, being set up with the purpose:-

... of fostering and advancing the scientific exploration of all branches of mechanics, mathematics, and physics which are among the bases of the engineering sciences.

It was Ludwig Prandtl, Richard von Mises and Hans Reissner who had pressed for the founding of the Society and these three took major roles in its organisation with Prandtl becoming the president, von Mises the secretary, and Reissner taking a seat on the Council. In 1923 Reissner was elected as vice president and these three were continually re-elected to their respective positions until 1933. The main topics of interest to the Society were hydrodynamics, aerodynamics, solid state mechanics, and numerical mathematics. The Society held an annual meeting at different locations. The meetings from 1922 to 1933 (inclusive) were held in Leipzig, Marburg, Innsbruck, Dresden and Danzig (two meetings), Zčrich, Bad Kissingen, Hamburg, Prague, Berlin, Bad Elster, Berlin, and Wčrzburg.

By 1933 the German Society for Applied Mathematics had around 450 members. The Society, although flourishing, had never officially registered as a scientific organisation. It appears that this was not an intentional move, simply that it never got round to applying for registration. In fact this worked somewhat to their advantage when the political climate changed in 1933. In that year the National Socialists led by Hitler came to power. The Civil Service Law, passed on 7 April 1933, provided the means of removing Jewish teachers from the universities. Now von Mises and Reissner were Jewish and they indicated to Prandtl that they wished to resign their offices in the German Society for Applied Mathematics and Mechanics. On 22 June 1933 Prandtl wrote to Erich Trefftz, who was on the Council [2]:-

Our colleagues, von Mises and Reissner, have indicated to me that the Society for Applied Mathematics and Mechanics on the occasion of its next major meeting must become coordinated and that they themselves on this occasion would wish to resign.

In this letter Prandtl offered to resign himself and suggested that Trefftz should become president of the Society. It was clear that Prandtl did not wish his Jewish colleagues to resign and it is also clear that their offer to resign did not come about from pressure within the Society, rather it was through a wish that the Society did not have to face difficulties. Trefftz replied that Prandtl should continue as president. He also wrote [2]:-

If we must exclude Jewish members, I would consider dissolution the worthiest action.

Prandtl replied:-

... we ought allow no political moods to influence us, and therefore even if the exclusion of Jewish members should be requested, must further preserve the GAMM. In my opinion, this has nothing to do with considerations of what would be worthiest, since it is simply a question of a need of our discipline.

After the resignation of Reissner and von Mises in 1933, they were replaced by Trefftz and C Weber, respectively while Prandtl continued as president.

In the following years Prandtl fought against the exclusion of Jewish members but of course he failed to convince the Nazis. For example he wrote to the Ministry on 15 June 1938 [1]:-

Mechanics, just as mathematics and the exact sciences, has not the slightest connection to politics according to its internal structure. Advances in these sciences rest on international cooperative work. Given the contemporary specialisation, a single country no longer produces enough brains in order to do without this cooperative work. This viewpoint, which, since the breakthrough of 1933, has fallen somewhat in the background, must generally be helped to become again valid if Germany does not wish to suffer damage.

It was not until World War II ended and the National Socialists removed from power, that Prandtl's hopes that Germany could fully participate in international cooperation in applied mathematics were realised. The Society continued to hold an annual meeting until 1943 in Wčrzburg. There was then a break from 1944 to 1949 when it was impossible to organise the annual meeting, but they recommenced in 1950 with a meeting in Darmstadt. Richard Grammel, from Stuttgart, had been elected vice-president of the Society in 1937 and held the post until the end of World War II in 1945. The Society essentially ceased to exist until operations restarted in 1950 and at this time Grammel was elected president.

The structure of the Society changed in 1973 with posts of President, Vice-president, Secretary, Vice-secretary, and Treasurer. This structure continues up to the present day. The Society now has a structure based on groups covering specific areas which organize seminars and workshops. These are at present: Efficient Numerical Methods for Partial Differential Equations, Computer Arithmetic and Scientific Computation, Inverse Problems: Analysis and Numerical Methods, Applied Stochastic Analysis and Optimization, Material-Theory, Mathematical Analysis of Nonlinear Phenomena, Dynamics and Control Theory, Scientific Computing, Experimental Mechanics, Didactics in Mechanics, Analysis of Microstructure, Applied and Numerical Algebra, and Multiple Field Problems in Solid Mechanics.

We should also mention that the Society awards the Richard von Mises prize annually. It publishes the GAMM-Mitteilungen (GAMM-Messages) twice yearly, which contains original research contributions as well as surveys of areas of applied mathematics and mechanics. The Society now has a membership exceeding 2500.


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JOC/EFR November 2004 School of Mathematics and Statistics
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