A well-kept secret

Two years ago I was in Auckland, coming to the end of a month-long tour of New Zealand as the Forder lecturer.

This scheme was run by the mathematical societies of London and New Zealand, initially funded by money left to the LMS by Henry George Forder, professor of mathematics in Auckland. Every two years, the LMS chooses a lecturer and pays her/his fare to New Zealand; the NZMS is responsible for getting the lecturer to all the university towns in New Zealand, and accommodation there; the lecturer gives two (or more) lectures in each place. The system is simplified by the fact that the six centres are more-or-less along a line (from south to north, Dunedin, Christchurch, Wellington, Palmerston North, Hamilton and Auckland).

It was a marvellous experience. Some of the highlights were: seeing a sea lion on the beach on the Otago Peninsula; the train from Christchurch to Picton suddenly coming out of the mist into spectacular clarity in the Conway Valley; being entertained for ten minutes by the varied song of a tui on the bank of the Manawatu River; walking on the Old Coach Road in Ohakune, seeing the beautiful mountain Taranaki right at the limit of visibility; a pod of dolphins playing round our boat in the Bay of Islands; a Tongan choir bursting into harmony in the old Pompallier mission in Russell; and a remote interview with Kim Hill for Radio New Zealand, followed later by a superb dinner after my public lecture on “Sudoku and Mathematics” in Auckland. If you want more, you can read about it here.

Along the way there was a lot of discussion about the scheme, how it was arranged and funded, and some nervousness about its future. Some people said that Forder’s money had run out and the lectureship would be discontinued. At the same time, it was clear that the Forder lecturer’s visit was very much appreciated.

So I became curious as to what had happened. Before I went, I was curious to find out who my predecessors were. I couldn’t find a list anywhere, but from a combination of Forder lecturers’ CVs and old committee minutes I managed to assemble it: the Forder lecturers before me were Christopher Zeeman, Michael Atiyah, Peter Whittle, Roger Penrose, Elmer Rees, Ian Stewart, Michael Berry, Tom Körner, Caroline Series, and Martin Bridson. Distinguished company indeed!

This time Google revealed no new information from the LMS; but the NZMS has re-vamped its web presence and devotes a page to activities including the Forder lectureship (with a link to a page listing all the lecturers). From this I learned that the scheme is continuing and my successor is Ben Green. Since I was his PhD examiner, and he proved one of my conjectures, there is a certain continuity there. This was confirmed by Stephen Huggett.

Clearly this is something the NZMS feel more strongly about than the LMS; but perhaps such a valued institution is worth a bit more publicity on the LMS page!

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About Peter Cameron

I count all the things that need to be counted.
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2 Responses to A well-kept secret

  1. The LMS council have just announced that they will be re-doing their website. Sasha Borovik has set up a blog here, and is asking for suggestions. Head over there, and let them have your suggestions!

  2. Pingback: LMS website « Peter Cameron's Blog

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