Ian Sneddon

Scotsman obituary

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Professor Ian Naismith Sneddon, Born: 8 December, 1919, in Glasgow Died: 4 November, 2000, aged 80

By the death of Professor lan Sneddon, the University of Glasgow has lost one of its most distinguished professors and a most colourful personality who graced its precincts for close on half a century.

Born in Glasgow, he was educated at Hyndland School, the University of Glasgow and Trinity College, Cambridge, of which he was a Senior Scholar. On graduating at Glasgow in 1940 with First Class Honours in Mathematics and Natural Philosophy, he was awarded the Bryce Fellowship, which took him to Cambridge for further study. As it was wartime, his studies did not take on their normal pattern and in 1943 he entered the Ministry of Supply, working as a scientific officer at the Armaments Research and Development Establishment at Fort Halstead. After his release from war service in 1945 he spent a year at Bristol with NF Mott, working on nuclear physics and beginning a collaboration in the writing of the book Wave Mechanics and its Applications, whichappeared in 1948.

Ian returned to Glasgow in 1946 as a lecturer in Natural Philosophy and at about this time changed his main interest from Theoretical Physics to classical Applied Mathematics for which the undergraduate course in Mathematics at Glasgow at that time -- it dated back to Lord Kelvin -- was an excellent training.

In 1950 he moved to the newly established University College of North Staffordshire, now the University of Keele, as its first Professor of Mathematics. Apart from setting up his own department, he gave much help to the principal, Lord Lindsay of Birker (AD Lindsay), in dealing with the many problems associated with the setting up of a new institution.

After six years at Keele, Ian returned to Glasgow as the obvious choice for the first occupant of the newly created Simson Chair of Mathematics. He remained in Glasgow for the rest of his life, retiring in 1985 but carrying on as an honorary senior research fellow.

By now he was acquiring an international reputation, in the true meaning of that term, with contacts in many American universities as well as in Poland and at Udine in Italy. The relationship with Polish mathematicians was a particularly warm one which was further strengthened when it came to light that C Kuratowski, the pre-eminent topologist, had come to Glasgow in 1913 to take a degree in Engineering, but had completed only one year of study when war broke out and had then to return to Poland, where he forsook Engineering and turned to Pure Mathematics. In recognition of Ian's service to Mathematics in Poland, he was appointed a Commander, the Order of Polonia Restituta.

In addition to writing many research papers, he wrote several substantial books, mainly on elasticity and its associated mathematics, at postgraduate level and one small book, The Special Functions of Mathematical Physics which was found to be very suitable for third- and fourth-year undergraduate students. Ian had a great facility for writing in that his first draft of anything needed only a few minor modifications before going to the printer; most people require to make several drafts of their manuscripts. His lectures were always clear and well presented, and he will be remembered for his exceptionally neat writing or, rather, printing both on the blackboard and on paper.

He will also be remembered with gratitude by many postgraduate students and young members of staff for the help and encouragement that he gave them. He was generous in his appreciation of his co-workers and friends and helped many to obtain more senior positions elsewhere. But, perhaps more importantly, he was very thoughtful of all his friends and acquaintances and was forever showing them little acts of kindness and consideration that they never expected.

The honours and distinctions that came to Ian are too numerous to mention here. Suffice it to say that he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1958, a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1983 and was given honorary doctorates from the universities of Hull, Strathclyde and Warsaw and from the Heriot-Watt University. For his service on Government committees relating to scientific matters, he was appointed OBE in 1969.

lan devoted considerable time to his outside interests. He played a prominent part in the affairs of the Scottish National Orchestra, Scottish Opera and Capella Nova. He was a keen photographer, and his collection of photographs of mathematicians is so large that it may well he unique. His wife, Mary, was tremendously active and had many involvements that have not been mentioned here.

lan is survived by his wife, two sons and one daughter. Mary was at all times a tower of strength to him and enabled him to offer the generous and gracious hospitality for which, along with his gifts as a raconteur, he was renowned.

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