Pro­fes­sor praises early teach­ers

Matamata Chronicle - - Happy New Year - By ABBY BROWN

Marston Con­der, a maths pro­fes­sor and medal re­cip­i­ent, at­tributes his suc­cess par­tially to his ed­u­ca­tion at Mata­mata Col­lege.

At a cer­e­mony where he was awarded the Hec­tor Medal, the Auck­land Univer­sity pro­fes­sor said he had had a great ed­u­ca­tion at Mata­mata Col­lege and Waikato Univer­sity.

The sci­ence award is pre­sented to a re­searcher for out­stand­ing work in chem­i­cal, phys­i­cal or math­e­mat­i­cal and in­for­ma­tion sciences by the Royal So­ci­ety of New Zealand. Pre­vi­ous win­ners in­clude Ernest Ruther­ford, who split the atom.

Con­der re­mem­bered two Mata­mata Col­lege maths teach­ers, Alas­dair McLean and Don Darke.

‘‘ Alas­dair was a hard taskmaster but he knew the sub­ject very well, and I’ll never for­get one of his favourite ex­pres­sions: ‘Math­e­ma­ti­cians are lazy peo­ple’. As he ex­plained, what he meant by this was that we should look for quick and clever ways of solv­ing prob­lems, rather than tak­ing the long way round,’’ Con­der said.

‘‘That mes­sage has stuck with me for years, and been very help­ful, even though I don’t follow the ad­vice as well as I’d like to some­times.’’

He also at­trib­uted his suc­cess to his par­ents. ‘‘Both of them had to leave school when they were 14, to help out on their fam­ily farms [when times were very tough]. But both of them had quite a lot of aca­demic abil­ity, and en­cour­aged my sis­ter Maura and I to do well at school,’’ he said. He also at­trib­uted play­ing maths games at home to help­ing him in his ca­reer.

Suc­cesses that stand out for Con­der through­out his ca­reer in­clude win­ning the se­nior math­e­mat­i­cal prize at Ox­ford Univer­sity, be­ing pro­moted to pro­fes­sor in 1993 when he was only 38, be­ing elected a fel­low of the Royal So­ci­ety of New Zealand five years later and then pres­i­dent of the RSNZ Academy in 2006.

More re­cent suc­cesses in­clude win­ning a James Cook Fel­low­ship, which al­lowed him to spend two years in full­time re­search and then be­ing se­lected as the first Maclau­rin Lec­turer to make a tour of univer­si­ties in the United States at the invitation of the Amer­i­can Math­e­mat­i­cal So­ci­ety.

The Hec­tor Medal is given to some­one who has made an out­stand­ing con­tri­bu­tion to the ad­vance­ment of a par­tic­u­lar branch of sci­ence. Most of Con­der’s math­e­mat­i­cal re­search is in a branch of al­ge­bra called group the­ory.

He said what he is best known for is the de­vel­op­ment of new tech­niques for con­struct­ing ob­jects of par­tic­u­lar types with the largest pos­si­ble de­gree of sym­me­try. This has in­volved a mix­ture of the­ory and com­pu­ta­tional ex­per­i­ments.

Con­der said most of his work is fun­da­men­tal but he is ‘‘fre­quently sur­prised when I find out an un­ex­pected use of my work, in some other branch of maths or in some com­pletely dif­fer­ent sub­ject.’’

He had a PhD stu­dent who used his ideas from a the­sis to help a hol­i­day rental company in New Zealand de­cide how to po­si­tion and re-po­si­tion its camper­vans in the most ef­fi­cient way pos­si­ble. By do­ing this, the company not only re­duced its costs by 10 per cent, but also in­creased its rev­enue by the same amount, he said.

The Royal So­ci­ety of New Zealand is an in­de­pen­dent or­gan­i­sa­tion that pro­motes sci­ence, tech­nol­ogy and the hu­man­i­ties in New Zealand. The group awards New Zealand re­searchers in those fields with var­i­ous medals and fund­ing.

Photo: SUP­PLIED

MEDALLED MATH­E­MA­TI­CIAN: Marston Con­der, a Mata­mata Col­lege

alum­nus, has re­ceived the Hec­tor Medal from the Royal So­ci­ety of New Zealand.

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