David Acheson

Jesus College, Oxford


David Acheson is a British applied mathematician, best known for his 'upside-down pendulums' theorem and for his best-selling book 1089 and All That.

He was born in 1946 and educated at Highgate School, in North London. In 1967 he took a 1st class Honours degree in mathematics and physics at King's College, London, winning the Alan Flower Memorial Prize. He obtained a Ph.D in mathematics at the University of East Anglia in 1971, and then held a NERC Research Fellowship at the Meteorological Office, working with Raymond Hide. He took up a Junior Lecturership at Oxford in 1973, and a research fellowship at St Catherine's College in 1976. In 1977 he was appointed a Fellow in Mathematics at Jesus College, Oxford.

His early research was on geophysical and astrophysical fluid dynamics, beginning with the discovery in 1972 of a magnetic 'field gradient' instability in rotating fluids. Later, in 1976, he discovered the first examples of wave over-reflection (i.e. reflection coefficient greater than unity) in a stable system.

In 1978 he published a wide-ranging paper on magnetic fields and differential rotation in stars, with new results on magnetic buoyancy, the Tayler instability, Goldreich-Schubert instability, and, especially, what is now called the 'magnetorotational' instability.

His first book, Elementary Fluid Dynamics, was published in 1990, and is now widely used around the world as an introduction to undergraduate fluid mechanics.

In 1992 he discovered the 'upside-down pendulums theorem' (which is very loosely connected with the Indian Rope Trick), and the theorem and associated experiment featured on BBC TV's Tomorrow's World in October 1995. This led to a second book, From Calculus to Chaos (1997), which was neither a 'popular maths' book nor a textbook, but something in between.

His first 'popular' maths book, 1089 and All That, was published in 2002, and has now been translated into 11 languages.

In 2004 he became Oxford University's first winner of a National Teaching Fellowship, and was elected Emeritus Fellow of Jesus College, Oxford in 2008.

He served as President of the Mathematical Association for 2010-11.

In 2013, David Acheson was awarded an Honorary D.Sc by the University of East Anglia for his outstanding work in the popularisation of mathematics.