Mathematical passion

By Tim Groenendyk

It’s no secret that Professor Nalini Joshi is passionate about mathematics. “It’s a deep and abiding thing in my soul,” said Joshi, when asked about her addiction to solving equations. “It’s almost like I’m getting to see how the universe works, because things click into place at the deepest levels.”

Nalini Josh

“It’s a deep and abiding thing in my soul. It’s almost like I’m getting to see how the universe works, because things click into place at the deepest levels" - Professor Joshi on Mathematics.

When asked why Alan Turing Year is significant, Nalini Joshi responds “I have a kind of soft spot for Turing because not only was he a great mathematician but he was also an outsider.”

Joshi was born in Burma, where “apart from being the wrong ethnic background, we were also in the minority when we came to Australia.

“And I’m a woman in what is primarily a man’s world; the first female professor in the mathematical sciences at Sydney University.”

Joshi’s research centres around non-linear systems, with a particular emphasis on integrable systems - which have applications in many fields including fluid dynamics, particle physics and optics.

“The light that shines through a non-linear optical fibre can travel forever if the system is integrable. If not, other factors interfere with the light and you need devices to help transmit and amplify the signal.”

Basically, it’s the art of distinguishing between order and chaos on a mathematical level.

She acknowledges not everyone shares her appetite for mathematics and consequently another of her research interests involves promoting mathematics in higher education.

“Children get very, very excited by things they discover in maths, patterns in counting for example.”

“Somewhere along the way I think that excitement gets lost. What I’d like to do is find a way of engaging students where that sense of fun and love of discovery is still present in what they see in mathematics.”

Inspired by Joshi’s tweet – “Maths is in my heart” – Trixie Barretto, a University staff member, filmed a short movie about her to explore this idea.