Ming-Jun Lai and Paul Wenston
Creative Research Medal 2003
Ming-Jun Lai, professor of mathematics, and Paul Wenston, associate professor of mathematics, have developed a method that reduces approximation errors for Navier-Stokes equations. Mathematicians apply these equations to describe and predict how fluids move, for example when designing faster boats and creating such animations as the huge waves in the movie The Perfect Storm. While Navier-Stokes equations may look like advanced calculus problems from a textbook, no one has been able to explicitly solve them. The Clay Mathematics Institute in Cambridge, Mass., offers a $1 million prize for solving these equations and considers them one of the seven greatest unsolved mathematical puzzles both because of their difficulty and because of their central importance to modern mathematics. Instead of explicit solutions, approximate solutions to these equations are numerically computed. Drs. Lai and Wenston have created a method using multivariate splines to numerically approximate solutions to Navier-Stokes equations. Their method has reduced approximation errors compared to the popular finite element method.