Alan Davies (mathematician)

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Alan Davies
Born (1945-12-22) December 22, 1945 (age 71)
Nationality British
Alma mater University of Southampton, Imperial College
Thesis Aspects of the boundary integral equation method and its implementation on a distributed array processor (1989)
Doctoral advisor Dr Mike Bernal
Spouse Dr Diane Crann

Alan Davies (born December 22, 1945) is a British professor of mathematics at the University of Hertfordshire. He obtained a first class honours degree in mathematics (1968) from Southampton University. He followed that with a master's degree, with distinction, in structural engineering (1974) and a doctorate in numerical computation (1989) from Imperial College. He has spent most of his working life as an academic at the University of Hertfordshire (UH), formerly the Hatfield Polytechnic. He had short spells in industry working as a research engineer in the aircraft industry and as a process engineer in the food industry. During his time in Hatfield his major activity has been teaching mathematics to undergraduates and postgraduates in mathematics, science and engineering. He has also been engaged in research in numerical computation. In 1992 he became Head of the Department of Mathematics and was appointed Professor of Mathematics and, in 2004, the Department merged with Physical Sciences and Alan was appointed head of the School of Physics, Astronomy and Mathematics. During his time as HoD he became increasingly involved with outreach activities with both schools and the general public. He retired from his full-time post in 2006 and is currently Professor Emeritus in mathematics and is currently a London Mathematical Society Holgate Lecturer.

Alan’s teaching has always been his major strength. His particular interest is in applied mathematics and numerical computation. He is particularly interested in teaching those topics to students for whom mathematics is not their main subject, in particular engineering. He tries very hard to show how the mathematics relates to the engineering and, just as importantly, that the engineering is enriched by understanding the mathematics. His teaching to mathematicians has, again, been in applied mathematics. He believes that mathematics provides an ideal opportunity for clear and precise writing. In 1991, in collaboration with Ros Crouch, he was awarded the British Nuclear Fuels Partnership Award for Innovative Teaching in Mathematics, in recognition of their undergraduate module in which mathematical modelling was used as a vehicle for the teaching and learning of communication skills. He was a member of the Mew Group which produced materials suitable for teachers to use with sixth formers to consider problems different from the rather idealised versions found in their usual text books. His teaching has been profoundly influenced by his working with the Open University (OU). In 1974 he was appointed as a part-time tutor and he retained that position until 2012 working on a variety of modules in applied mathematics and mathematical modelling. He still has an association with the OU through summer schools and mathematics revision weekends. He is well-aware of how influenced his teaching has been by working with the OU and its staff, especially the tutors with whom he has worked at summer schools. There have been many innovative ideas that he has been able to work into his own teaching at UH. In particular he has developed a variety of simple demos to enhance lectures on applied mathematics.

Alan’s research interest is in the area of numerical computation and he has over 100 relevant publications. In particular he collaborated with his wife, Dr Diane Crann, over some fifteen years developing boundary element solutions to diffusion and heat-conduction problems. They are particularly interested in the use of the Laplace transform and domain decomposition approaches. As a researcher Alan has supervised eight doctoral students and has examined about twenty. His research and teaching influenced his writing of the two editions of the finite element method text books, the first edition being a response to the lack of an undergraduate text in the late 1970s. Since his retirement Alan’s research has taken a back seat and he has concentrated on outreach activities. Although his specific area of teaching and research has been applied mathematics, he has a general interest in all areas of mathematics and this is particularly true of his work in schools. He works very closely with Diane in presenting masterclasses in mathematics and physical science in collaboration with the Royal Institution (Ri). They have had a connection with the Ri since 1993 when they started running the Hertfordshire Ri Mathematics Masterclass series at UH for year nine pupils. Over the past twenty years they have both became heavily involved with the Ri and its masterclass programme. Diane as Clothworkers’ Fellow in Mathematics and Manager of the Masterclass Programme (2010-2015) and Alan as a trustee (2009-2015). As well as the Hertfordshire series, in 2010 they set up and started running the Norfolk series in Norwich. In 2004 they started a primary series in Rickmansworth and recently have set up a similar series in Norwich. They regularly present masterclasses and workshops, both primary and secondary, in schools across the UK. They have taken their masterclass workshops to Singapore and recently have been doing the same on behalf of the British Council in France. The Ri Masterclass programme has expanded to include engineering and computer science and Alan contributes to both series.

Diane has been the organiser of the UH Institute of Physics (IoP) lecture series since 2006 and Alan regularly gives lectures in this series. His lectures often involve simple demos and have been influenced by his having given many lectures and demonstrations in the Ri’s famous Faraday Lecture Theatre where he has had the opportunity to ‘re-create’ famous experiments of the likes of Humphry Davy, Michael Faraday and other famous Ri scientists. Alan’s philosophy for his public lectures is that mathematics underpins science and he will not shy away from including equations even though the talks are always aimed at a general audience. It’s not the equations that are a ‘put-off’ it’s how they are presented and quite often a simple demo or explanation will suffice. His public lectures are suitable for all ages from 8-98. Details of the workshops and lectures can be found on the website

Alan and Diane moved to Norfolk in 2006 and most weeks they come down to Hertfordshire for masterclasses or IoP lectures. Their house in Norfolk has a half-acre garden and that takes up a good deal of their spare time. Their work still seems to take them to a variety of places in the UK and abroad. They still have two parents alive, four grown-up children and four grandchildren so there is plenty to keep them busy.