David John Benney, professor emeritus of applied mathematics at MIT and former head of the Department of Mathematics, passed away on October 9, 2015, after a period of declining health.
David joined the MIT mathematics faculty in 1960 as assistant professor.
He received a PhD in applied mathematics from MIT in 1959, studying under Chai-Chiao Lin, and continued at MIT as an instructor in 1959-60.
David was promoted to full professor in 1966, and retired from MIT in 2010.
David John Benney, was born in Wellington, New Zealand, on April 8, 1930.
He received his BS in mathematics (with first class honours) from Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand, in 1950, followed by an MS in 1951.
David studied at Cambridge University from 1952 to 1954, receiving a BA in mathematics, again with first-class honours.
He returned to New Zealand as a lecturer at Canterbury University College (1955-57), before entering the doctoral program at MIT in applied mathematics.
David Benney is survived by his wife of 56 years, Elizabeth Matthews Benney; by his three children, Richard Benney of Stow, Vermont; Paul Benney of Bloomfield, Connecticut; and Antonia Benney of Longmeadow, Massachusetts; and by two grandsons, Luke and Jon.
David chaired the Applied Mathematics Committee from 1983 to 85.
He oversaw the appointment of many leading scholars to the faculty, thereby establishing the current strength of the department.
David Benney’s research was highly original; as such, he made pioneering contributions to applied mathematics.
He was at the leading edge of a paradigm shift in thinking about nonlinear wave systems in fluid dynamics.
He hasn’t only rationalized important physical phenomena, but derived equations to describe them that became relevant in a wide variety of contexts, including aerodynamics, meteorology, oceanography, atmospheric sciences, and optics.
David was a dedicated teacher and mentor who left an extraordinary legacy.
He had a remarkable ability to work effectively with PhD students and he mentored 18 PhDs, producing 158 academic descendants.