Heriot-Watt mathematics professor collects prestigious UK prize for “outstanding contributions”



John Ball collects the De Morgan medal
Professor Sir John Ball collects his medal from Ulrike Tillmann, President of the London Mathematical Society

A mathematics professor and researcher at Heriot-Watt University has collected a prestigious national award for his outstanding contributions to mathematics.

Professor Sir John Ball was praised by the London Mathematical Society for his “multi-faceted and deep contributions to mathematical research and the mathematical community over many years.”

The London Mathematical Society – the UK’s major learned society for mathematics, with more than 3,000 members in the UK and internationally – has awarded Professor Ball its top prize – the De Morgan Medal.

My mathematical career owes a huge amount to the Heriot-Watt Department of Mathematics, which I joined as a postdoc in 1972.

Professor Sir John Ball, Heriot-Watt University

This has been awarded by the Society every third year since 1884 to mathematicians normally based in the UK for their contributions to mathematics.

In its citation for the award, the London Mathematical Society praised Professor Ball for his “seminal work” and described him as a “true role model for a mathematician.”

The Society said: “John Ball has a very rare talent of connecting important experimental phenomena to deep mathematics in a very clear and non-intimidating way.”

Professor Ball’s research applies mathematics to the science of materials and mechanics. This includes studying nonlinear elasticity, a central model of solid mechanics, and its applications to predicting the microstructure of alloys, and the behaviour of liquid crystals. A recent interest is in models of computer vision.

Professor Ball is a Professor at Heriot-Watt’s School of Mathematical and Computer Sciences and the current President of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Scotland's National Academy. He is also a Visiting and Emeritus Professor at the University of Oxford. Professor Ball was knighted in the 2006 New Year Honours list for Services to Science. He began his career at Heriot-Watt University in the 1970s, before moving to Oxford in 1996. He returned to Heriot-Watt University in 2018 to take up his current role as Professor of Mathematics.

On collecting his award in London, Professor Ball said: “I am very happy to have been awarded the De Morgan Medal, which has a humbling list of past winners.

“My mathematical career owes a huge amount to the Heriot-Watt Department of Mathematics, which I joined as a postdoc in 1972.”

Many of the world’s leading mathematicians had passed through Heriot-Watt’s mathematics department, he added.

Professor Ball also said Edinburgh was now “one of the most important mathematical cities of the world.” He attributed this to the creation in 2005 of the Maxwell Institute for Mathematical Sciences – a joint research institute between the universities of Heriot-Watt and Edinburgh – and the International Centre for Mathematical Sciences in Edinburgh, a major national resource which aims to stimulate and promote mathematical sciences through international workshops and conferences.

Professor Sara Lombardo, Executive Dean of Heriot-Wat University’s School of Mathematical and Computer Sciences, said: “I was delighted to see John receiving the De Morgan Medal by the London Mathematical Society. This is the LMS's premier award, awarded every third year, and it is a fantastic recognition of John’s successful career and his many important contributions to mathematics.”

Former winners of the De Morgan Medal include British mathematician, physicist and Nobel Prize winner Lord Rayleigh and British philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell. 

The De Morgan Medal is awarded in memory of Professor Augustus De Morgan, the first President of the London Mathematical Society.  


Victoria Masterson