Robert Finn is the leading expert in the mathematical theory of capillarity. Paul Concus and Bob Finn proposed that NASA conduct capillary experiments in space to test the validity of the unusual predictions of (mathematical) capillary theory, which is important to the design of fuel tanks for vehicles in space and plumbing in space stations and vehicles. Together with Mark Weislogel, Concus and Finn designed experiments which were conducted in NASA drop towers, the space shuttle (two experiments) and the Russian MIR space station. (Video of these experiments will be available at the KMAA conference.) Professor Finn will talk about capillarity and his experiences involving students in research in his talks.
As a graduate student at Syracuse University, Finn had the honor of taking a course from Paul Erdos. (When he couldn't solve one of the homework problems but could only reduce it to a lemma he couldn't prove, Erdos responded "In Hungary, when a six year old boy doesn't know that lemma, we throw him in the Danube." Since that experience, Finn's swimming has improved.) Professor Finn earned a PhD in Mathematics from Syracuse in 1951 and held visiting positions at the Institute for Advanced Study and the University of Maryland and then served as an assistant professor at the University of Southern California, associate professor at the Calfornia Institute of Technology and, starting in 1959, professor at Stanford University. He has published approximately 160 papers in the areas of fluid mechanics, partial differential equations and the calculus of variations. He serves on the editorial board of several journals and is vice-president of the Pacific Journal of Mathematics. Professor Finn has written several expository articles on the unexpected predictions of (mathematical) capillary theory:
Professor Finn has had a great deal of success working with graduate students; 28 students have earned PhD degrees under his supervision and he is currently working with his 29th PhD candidate, Rajat Bhatnagar. In addition, however, he has also had a great deal of success working with undergraduate students and, in many cases, they have gone on to pursue graduate study in mathematics. Some examples of research papers Finn has written with undergraduate and graduate students at Stanford University are:
Robert Finn and Kevin Luli: On the capillary problem for compressible fluids
Journal of Mathematical Fluid Mechanics (to appear in print, already has appeared electronically)
Rajat Bhatnagar and Robert Finn: Equilibrium configurations of an infinite cylinder in an unbounded fluid
Physics of Fluids 18 (2006), no. 4
Robert Finn and Darren Lee: On a singular behavior of capillary surfaces
Calculus of Variations and Partial Differential Equations Vol. 19 (2004), no. 1, 95--105.
Shi Danzhu and Robert Finn: On a theorem of Lancaster and Siegel
Pacific Journal of Mathematics Vol. 213 (2004), no. 1, 111--119.
Robert Finn and Robert Neel: C-singular solutions of the capillary problem
Journal für die Reine und Angewandte Mathematik Vol. 512 (1999), 1--25.
Robert Finn and Jonathan Marek: The modified canonical proboscis
Zeitschrift für Analysis und ihre Anwendungen Vol. 135 (1996), no. 1, 95--108.
Robert Finn and Tanya Leise: On the canonical proboscis
Zeitschrift für Analysis und ihre Anwendungen Vol. 13 (1994), no. 3, 443--462.
Bruce Fischer and Robert Finn: Existence theorems and measurement of the capillary contact angle
Zeitschrift für Analysis und ihre Anwendungen Vol. 132 (1993), no. 3, 405--423.
Two of the undergraduate students have earned their PhD degrees in Mathematics from, respectively, Texas A&M and Harvard: Tanya Leise is on the faculty at Amherst College, Robert Neel is on the faculty at Columbia University and Danzhu Shi received her PhD from Stanford and works for an investment company.