Engineer of the Week No.23. Muriel Barker MA, BSc (Mrs Glauert)(7th May 1892 - 23rd December 1949)
Today we remember Muriel Barker, mathematician and aerodynamicist who was born in Nottingham where her father was in the textile industry as a veiling manufacturer. She was educated at the Nottingham Girls High School where she was fortunate to have access to one of the most modern and well-equipped science teaching laboratories available to girls schools in that period. She won prizes in each of her upper school years often for German as well as maths and chemistry and many other girls also seemed to excel at maths and science so it was apparently an ideal environment for her talents. She went to Newnham College, Cambridge, as a College Scholar, to take the Maths Tripos, graduating in 1915.
Muriel then taught at the Belvedere School in Liverpool until she was recruited to the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough in 1918 where she arrived at the same time as another woman who was to become a very eminent career researcher there: Frances Bradfield.Muriel’s first publication came from her work at Farnborough at this time: her paper looked at theeoretical streamlines around a Joukowsky aerofoil, a highly mathematical piece of work. In 1919 she went to Bryn Mawr for a year and then back to Cambridge on a Bathurst postgraduate Studentship in Aeronautics, where she did work on the velocity of water flowing around Pitot tubes, leading to her 1922 paper ‘On the use of very small Pitot-tubes for measuring wind velocity’. A Pitot tube is a slender tube with two holes: the front hole in the air (or water) stream measures‘stagnation’ pressure, and the side hole measures static pressure. The difference between these two pressures, gives the dynamic pressure, used to calculate speed through the air or water and Pitot tubes are used by both ships and aeroplanes today to measure their speeds. She was the first person to show that the difference between the Pitot tube’s reading and the static pressure is proportional to the flow speed rather than to its square. In 1922 Muriel returned to the RAE, where she soon became engaged to Hermann Glauer, the head of the RAE’s Aerodynamics department. In 1923 she published her next paper, on ‘Two-Dimensional Aerofoil Theory’, which was probably based on her work when she had been at the RAE before, and the first under her married name. Although she had remained at the RAE for a while after marrying (despite the ‘marriage bar’) she soon had to leave as she started her family, having a son in 1924 and twins in 1925. However, she was from 1922 to 1934 also working as a director and part time maths mistress at nearby Hillside College. After her husband was killed in a freak accident in 1934 Muriel moved to Cambridge where she became an Examiner in Mathematics for the London and Cambridge and Joint Northern Universities (which ran the school certificates examinations schemes) and a tutor in mathematics and statistics for the Training College in Suffron Walden. In 1940 she published one last paper which looked at the capture of raindrops by a cylinder and an aerofoil moving at uniform speed, a problem of ongoing concern due to ice formation, e.g. on aeroplane wings in flight and was also used by USA scientists looking a cloud-seeding for rain, in the later 1940s. She died prematurely, in 1949.