III.49 Linear and Nonlinear Waves and Solitons
Richard S. Palais
1 John Scott Russell and the Great Wave of Translation
To the world at large, John Scott Russell is known as the naval architect who designed The Great Eastern, a steamship larger than any built before. But long after The Great Eastern has been forgotten, Russell will be remembered by mathematicians as the man who, despite limited mathematical training and background, was the first person to recognize the highly important mathematical concept known as a soliton, which he referred to as “the great wave of translation.” Here is his oft-quoted passage in which he describes how he first became acquainted with it:
I was observing the motion of a boat which was rapidly drawn ...