Ge­ordie Wil­liamson

Virgin Australia Voyeur - - STARS OF 2018 -

The 37-year-old math­e­ma­ti­cian was re­cently named the youngest liv­ing Fel­low of the Royal So­ci­ety in Lon­don. Now, he’s at the helm of a new re­search in­sti­tute in Syd­ney.

If any­one can make ad­vanced math­e­mat­ics come alive for laypeo­ple, it’s Wil­liamson, whose ir­rev­er­ence and boy­ish looks have lately landed him TV ap­pear­ances. The Bowral-born Ox­ford scholar also hap­pens to be at the fore­front of one of academia’s most fas­ci­nat­ing modern fields: rep­re­sen­ta­tion the­ory.

Says Wil­liamson: “Why do gui­tars, flutes and voices sound dif­fer­ent? Why does the sound of a whis­tle feel sim­pler than that of a vi­o­lin? The an­swer: ‘tim­bre’, the build­ing blocks of sound. Sim­i­larly, light is made of colour, with white light be­ing ‘all colours at once’. Rep­re­sen­ta­tion the­ory is the math­e­mat­i­cal the­ory of tim­bre and colour.”

In Novem­ber, Wil­liamson launched the Syd­ney Math­e­mat­i­cal Re­search In­sti­tute, which aims to sup­port re­search in Aus­tralia. “Some of the world’s best math­e­ma­ti­cians, in­clud­ing two Fields Medal­lists, did their un­der­grad­u­ate stud­ies in Aus­tralia,” he says. “But the con­di­tions in Aus­tralia do not match the best re­search in­sti­tutes over­seas.”

He adds: “It is also im­por­tant for us as a so­ci­ety to change the cul­ture around math­e­mat­ics, physics and com­puter sci­ence. These are cre­ative and in­spir­ing dis­ci­plines, which — whether we like it or not — are part of our fu­ture.”

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