On Wednesday, School members gathered in the Scientia's Tyree Room for a lunch to celebrate Professor Ian Sloan's 50 years of service in the School of Mathematics and Statistics at UNSW. 

The words below are derived from Head of School Professor Bruce Henry's speech to attendees:


Thank you for coming along to join us for this celebration of 50 years' service by Professor Ian Sloan in the School of Mathematics and Statistics at UNSW.

Ian joined the School of Mathematics and Statistics as a Lecturer on March 26 1965. For those of us who can remember, this was before the introduction of decimal currency. As an historical curiosity I am sure Ian won’t mind if I disclose his starting salary of 2,620 pounds. According to the Reserve Bank a basket of goods worth 2,620 pounds in 1965 would cost $66,570 in 2014. The starting salary of a new Lecturer at UNSW in 2014 was $92,848. So on the basis of a basket of goods we are much better off. But the reserve bank does not include housing in their basket of goods. In 1965 it would take approximately three years of a lecturer’s salary to buy a median priced house in Sydney. Today it would take more than ten years of a lecturer’s salary.

Ian was born a few months before the outbreak of World War Two. He did his schooling at Scotch College Melbourne and Ballarat College. Ian’s father was a senior mathematics master at Scotch College and subsequently Principal at Ballarat.

Ian completed his undergraduate degree, with first class honours, and equal first place, at the University of Melbourne, in 1960. Ian met his future wife Jan at the University of Melbourne. At the end of his undergraduate degree Ian was employed by CSR who sponsored him to do postgraduate work. He undertook a MSc degree in Mathematical Physics under the supervision of Professor Herbert Green at the University of Adelaide in 1961. Professor Green was Australia’s first professor of theoretical physics. Ian completed his master's research in record time, seven months, and he married Jan in the same year.

Following his master's degree, Ian undertook a PhD in Theoretical Physics under the supervision of Professor Sir Harrie Massey at University College London. Harrie Massey was another great theoretical physicist. He worked on the Manhattan project and at the Australian Woomera Rocket Range among other things. Ian completed his PhD in 1964, again in record time, just 30 months. His PhD thesis was entitled “Electron collisions by neutral and ionized helium”. Part of Ian’s PhD work involved computations on a mainframe machine in Manchester. This was in the very early days of computational mathematics.

After his PhD, Ian returned to Australia with his wife Jan and a new baby, and he worked as a research scientist for a year at CSR before taking up the position at UNSW. Professor Geoffrey Bosson was Head of the School of Mathematics at this time. The School of Mathematics formally came into existence in 1951 with Professor Bosson appointed as the foundation professor. But the foundations of the School were really firmly set with the appointment of the foundation Professor of Applied Mathematics John Blatt in 1959, the appointment of Jim Douglas as Professor of Mathematical Statistics in 1959 and the appointment of the foundation Professor of Pure Mathematics, George Szekeres in 1964. These were all remarkable appointments.

I understand that John Blatt played a leading hand in attracting George Szekeres to the School and also in attracting Ian Sloan. George stayed with the School for forty years, setting a bar for Ian. John Blatt was also initially trained as a Theoretical Physicist and he and Ian became involved in research in theoretical nuclear physics when Ian joined the School in 1965. John Blatt and Ian Sloan also shared an appreciation of the potential of computers in solving complex mathematical problems arising in theoretical physics.

Ian had a spectacular start at UNSW. He published ten single authored papers in five years in top quality journals. He also taught widely during this time giving lectures in Mathematical Methods, Quantum Mechanics, Relativity, Hydrodynamics and Elasticity and Group Representation Theory.

Ian was promoted to Senior Lecturer in 1968. Ian continued to carry out research in theoretical physics but his focus was shifting more towards the numerical analysis of such problems, particularly the analysis of integral equations relevant to scattering theory. Among his many invited talks, and I will come back to this, Ian gave an invited talk at the 1st Australian National Physics Congress in Adelaide in 1974 and an invited talk at the Applied Mathematics Conference in Jindabyne in 1976. This second talk pointed in the direction of Ian’s future research, moving from theoretical physics to applied mathematics.

Ian went off to the University of Maryland for a one-year sabbatical in 1971-72 and was promoted to Associate Professor in 1973. Ian took up another sabbatical at the University of Maryland in 1979-80 and was appointed to a personal Chair in Mathematics in 1983. He was appointed to Scientia Professor from 1999-2004.

Ian’s contributions to the mathematical sciences have been vast. In research he has authored more than 200 refereed journal articles in theoretical physics and computational mathematics and he has supervised eighteen PhD students. He is one of a select few on the 2001 Thompson ISI list of highly cited authors. He has travelled to all parts of the world giving invited talks on his work.

Ian has also been very active in advancing our School of Mathematics and Statistics. He was Head of Applied Mathematics during the mid-eighties and he was Head of School from 1986-1990, and again from 1992-1993.

In contributions to the discipline, Ian has been Editor of the Journal of the Australian Mathematical Society, Series B and Associate Editor of numerous journals, including Numerische Mathematik, Advances in Computational Mathematics, SIAM Journal on Numerical Analysis, The IMA Journal of Numerical Analysis, the Journal of Integral Equations and Applications. The International Journal of Geomathematics.

Ian has served the discipline and profession as Chair of the Division Applied Mathematics, 1989-1990, Chair of the National Committee for Mathematics, 1991-1997, Member of the Council of the Australian Academy of Science, 1995-1998, President Australian Mathematical Society, 1998-2000, and President of the International Council for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (ICIAM), 2003-2007.

Ian is a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Physics, Fellow of the Australian Mathematical Society, Fellow, Royal Society of New South Wales, Fellow of the American Mathematical Society, Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science, Fellow of the Society of Industrial and Applied Mathematics.

Ian has received numerous honours including the Information Based Complexity Prize, the ANZIAM Medal of the Australian Mathematical Society, the Thomas Ranken Lyle Medal of the Australian Academy of Science, the Szekeres Medal of the Australian Mathematical Society, the Centenary Medal, and Officer of the Order of Australia.

Put simply, Ian is a singularity. He is a person of tremendous energy and acumen. He has made major contributions in shaping the landscape of mathematics in our School and more widely in Australia. He has left a legacy of exceptional PhD students and research associates. Some of them are academic staff in our School.

I have often wondered about Ian’s style, what it is that has made him such an effective mentor, leading to such remarkably productive students. Perhaps Ian won’t mind if I share some of the insights that he provided in an interview with another one of Australia’s greatest mathematicians, Professor Peter Hall. When asked what he would say to students, some of the advice Ian offered was:

“Perhaps the first piece of advice is to be very clear and accurate, and interesting in your papers and your talks. Every paper, every talk, should tell a good story. If the story is not compelling, why should anyone else be interested?

If you find something interesting, perhaps a discrepancy between what you expect and what you see in your calculations, drop everything and resolve the conflict. Perhaps you can progressively pin down the discrepancy between theory and calculation to a single step, and then test it thoroughly. Almost always, this yields something important, even if it is only the realisation that something that you previously believed is in fact not true. On the other hand, this is sometimes the moment when you discover something new. That is a moment to savour (but only after you have done more work).”

There is no doubt that Ian’s approach has benefitted many students, and colleagues, an indeed Australian mathematics in general. But this is talking about legacy and legacy speaks to the past. Ian is still in full flight today. In a few weeks' time I will be going off to Beijing to attend The International Congress on Industrial and Applied Mathematics. This is the premier international congress in the field of applied mathematics held every four years under the auspices of the International Council for Industrial and Applied Mathematics. There will be approximately 10,000 participants at this event and Ian will be there, in full force, as one of the celebrated invited speakers.

Ian this is not a retirement speech. It is not a retirement occasion. It is not a farewell speech. It is not a farewell. It is a celebration speech. After 50 years of service to our School, to the university and to the discipline you deserve to be celebrated.

Thank you.