I am reading the (seminal?) paper of R. Courant on Finite elemtent methods (FEM) and in it I found the following phrase:

"But only the spectacular success of Walther Ritz and its tragic circumstances caught the general interest."

that is on the first page of the article Variational methods for the solution of problems of equilibrium and vibrations of 1943 by R. Courant

What does it mean? what are the tragic circumstances to which Courant refers to?

Why did those circumstances caught the general interest on the subject discussed?(FEM)

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    $\begingroup$ See Euler, Ritz, Galerkin, Courant: On the Road to the Finite Element Method. $\endgroup$ Oct 20, 2015 at 15:18
  • $\begingroup$ I suppose that Courant complained the premature death of a "primising" scientist : "Ritz died in 1909, at the age of 31. According to Forman's Dictionary of Scientific Biography,Ritz contracted tuberculosis in 1900, which led to his death in 1909." $\endgroup$ Oct 20, 2015 at 15:21
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    $\begingroup$ @MauroALLEGRANZA that should probably be an answer. $\endgroup$
    – Danu
    Oct 22, 2015 at 9:15

1 Answer 1


Reiterating on @Mauro ALLEGRANZA's linked response above, note that this historical research was later expanded upon and published in the 2012 article From Euler, Ritz, and Galerkin to Modern Computing (SIAM Review, Vol. 54, No. 4). Courant's reference to "tragic circumstances" may simply have been referring to Ritz's early death from tuberculosis, but it could also have much to do with the lack of appreciation that Ritz received during his lifetime for his work as well as Lord Rayleigh's unjustified accusations of plagiarism against Ritz (on both points, see pages 654-655 and 658-659 of SIAM Review, Vol. 54, No. 4).


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