Renfrey Potts

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Ren Potts
Born (1925-10-04)4 October 1925
Adelaide, South Australia
Died 9 August 2005(2005-08-09) (aged 79)
Adelaide, South Australia
Residence Australia
Nationality Australian
Alma mater The University of Adelaide
Oxford University
Known for

Potts model
Ising-type models in mathematical physics
Car-following and traffic flow

Operations research, especially networks
Difference equations
Awards ANZIAM Medal (1995)
Scientific career
Fields Mathematician
Institutions The University of Adelaide
Doctoral advisor Cyril Domb

Renfrey Burnard (Ren) Potts AO (1925–2005) was an Australian mathematician and is notable for the Potts model and his achievements in: operations research, especially networks; transportation science, car-following and road traffic; Ising-type models in mathematical physics; difference equations; and robotics. He was interested in computing from the early days of the computing revolution and oversaw the first computer purchases at the University of Adelaide.


The fourth child of Gilbert MacDonald Potts and Lorna Potts (née West), named after family friend and medical doctor Renfrey Gershom Burnard, Potts was educated at Rose Park Primary School and Prince Alfred College, where his father was Second Master. Potts was an outstanding lecturer who drew large audiences to his talks. In addition to mathematics, he was interested in sports and music. His sporting activities included long distance and marathon running, hockey, tennis, squash, badminton, bushwalking, and swimming. He played both the piano and the clarinet and was a volunteer disc jockey at a local radio station. He married Barbara Kidman[1] in Oxford[2] on 1 July 1950.[3] They had two daughters, Linda and Rebecca. They also had four grandchildren, Frank, Zoe, Jack and Georgia.


  • 1925 Born: 4 October 1925 Adelaide, South Australia, Australia
  • 1930–1936 Rose Park Primary School
  • 1937–1942 Prince Alfred College
  • 1943–1947 University of Adelaide Bachelor of Science (First class honours in mathematics)
  • 1948 Rhodes Scholar, Queen's College, Oxford[4]
  • 1949 Barbara Kidman[1] graduated with first class Honours in Physics
  • 1949–1951 D Phil, (Oxford), Dissertation: The Mathematical Investigation of Some Cooperative Phenomena, Advisor: Cyril Domb[5]
  • 1950 Married Barbara Kidman[1] in Oxford[2] on 1 July 1950
  • 1951–1957 Lecturer in Mathematics at the University of Adelaide
  • 1955–1956 Postdoctoral Scientist at the University of Maryland, USA
  • 1956 Barbara Kidman[1] awarded a PhD
  • 1957–1959 Associate Professor at the University of Toronto in Canada
  • 1958–1959 Consultant to General Motors in Detroit
  • 1959 Awarded the Lanchester Prize for research in operations research
  • 1959 Appointed to a newly created chair in applied mathematics at the University of Adelaide
  • 1959–1990 Professor, Chair and popular lecturer of applied mathematics at the University of Adelaide
  • 1966 Dr Kidman[1] returns to workforce as lecturer in the (then) new area of Computer Science
  • 1968 Doctor of Science (DSc) received from the University of Oxford
  • 1975 fellow of the Australian Academy of Science (FAA)
  • 1976 Appointed (Sir Thomas) Elder Professor of Mathematics
  • Foundation President of the South Australian Computer Society (the forerunner of the Australian Computer Society). He is recognised as the founder of the Australian Computer Society, and was elected a Fellow of that society (FACS).
  • 1978–9 chairman, Division of Applied Mathematics of the Australian Mathematical Society (the progenitor of ANZIAM)
  • 1983 Fellow of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (FTSE)
  • 1987 Dr Kidman[1] retires
  • 1990 Prof Potts retires
  • 1991 Emeritus Professor of Applied Mathematics at the University of Adelaide
  • 1991 Officer of the Order of Australia (AO)[6]
  • 1991–1993 After his retirement from Adelaide, he taught as a visiting professor at the National University of Singapore for three semesters.
  • 1994 Fellow of the Australian Mathematical Society (FAustMS)
  • 1995 Inaugural recipient of the ANZAAS (Australian and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science) Medal
  • 1995 Awarded first ANZIAM Medal[7][8][9]
  • 2001 Centenary Medal[10] received from the Australian Government
  • 2004 Inducted to the Pearcey Hall of Fame (The Pearcey Foundation)
  • 2005 Died: 9 August 2005 Adelaide, South Australia, Australia.


Most-cited publication:

  • Renfrey B. Potts, (1952); Some Generalized Order-Disorder Transformations, Proceedings of the Cambridge Philosophical Society, Vol. 48, pp. 106–109

Some others:
(Ren published about 90 research papers)


  • With Robert Oliver, "Flows in Transportation Networks"
  • 1978 Potts, R. B., "Transport in Australia: Some Key Issues", Australian Academy of Science, Canberra, 1978, 159 pp. ISBN 0-85847-048-9

Book chapters[edit]

  • 1990 Potts, R. B., "Wilton, John Raymond (1884–1944), Mathematician", in John Ritchie (ed.), Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 12, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1990, pp. 533–534. (Also available at

Journal articles[edit]


  • 1959 General Motors Corporation, Detroit, Michigan
  • 1960s–1980s P.G. Pak-Poy & Associates, Adelaide
  • 1988 Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot, Israel


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Dr Barbara Kidman was a senior lecturer in computer science at the University of Adelaide. After graduating in 1949 with first class Honours in Physics ("the first woman to do so" (Presumably, the first woman at the University of Adelaide.)), she devoted 6 years to full-time research at the Oxford University before returning to Adelaide and being awarded a PhD in 1956 ("one of the first two women to achieve this" (Again, presumably, the first at the University of Adelaide.)). Following a 9-year interruption, Dr Kidman returned to work in 1966 in what was then the very new field of computing and completed 20 years of work in this industry before retiring in 1987. Dr Kidman's publications include "Paper tape and punched cards: The early history of computing and computing science at the University of Adelaide", 1999, ISBN 0-646-38632-8 ISBN 978-0-646-38632-4.
  2. ^ a b "Married at Oxford". The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1931 – 1954). Adelaide, SA: National Library of Australia. 12 July 1950. p. 10. Retrieved 7 August 2012. 
  3. ^ "About People". The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1931 – 1954). Adelaide, SA: National Library of Australia. 12 July 1950. p. 10. Retrieved 7 August 2012. 
  4. ^ List of South Australian Rhodes Scholars
  5. ^ Cyril Domb, Mathematics Genealogy Project
  6. ^ a b It's an Honour, Officer of the Order of Australia, 10 June 1991, Citation: For service to Education, and in particular to Applied Mathematics.
  7. ^ ANZIAM — Australian & New Zealand Industrial and Applied Mathematics
  8. ^ The ANZIAM Medal
  9. ^ Prof Potts' ANZIAM Medal Citation
  10. ^ a b It's an Honour, Centenary Medal, 1 January 2001, Citation: For service to Australian society and science in operations research.