Professor Geordie Williamson from the School of Mathematics and Statistics has been elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, the world’s most prestigious and oldest continuously running scientific academy.
He is one of 50 new Fellows from across the Commonwealth of Nations. He will attend a ceremony in London in July to accept his election, alongside South African engineer and inventor, Elon Musk.
“This is a great honour,” Professor Williamson said. “It came as a very pleasant surprise: it’s the first scientific honour I became aware of as a child after the Nobel Prizes.”
It is unusual to be elected to the Royal Society under the age of 40. Professor Williamson is 36 and is now the Royal Society's youngest living fellow (if you choose not to include Prince William, a Royal Fellow, who is 35).
The Royal Society holds a special place for Professor Williamson. As a child, he was enthralled by the brilliant Indian mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan, a largely self-taught mathematician who grew up under British rule in Madras. He died, tragically young, aged 32, after spending time at Cambridge.
“When I was 12 I was fascinated by Ramanujan’s story. He was incredibly isolated and yet believed in himself. Upon arrival in Cambridge, he had his heart set on being elected a Fellow. That story was my first contact with the Royal Society.”
The Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Dr Michael Spence, said: “I’m thrilled for Geordie and the whole University that one of our young academics is gaining the recognition he deserves. Professor Williamson is a highly valued member of our academic community and I’m certain he will go from strength to strength in his contribution to mathematical knowledge.”
Professor Williamson has been recognised for his fundamental contribution to representation theory, which is the study of linear symmetry in mathematics. It is useful in the sense it can transform problems in abstract algebra into calculations in linear algebra, making them less complex to solve.
Professor Williamson has received many awards in his young career. Last year he received the New Horizons in Mathematics Prize, valued at $US100,000, funded by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Russian entrepreneur Yuri Milner.
A bet made in 2009 with German mathematician Peter Fiebig on the Lusztig conjecture eventually saw a “case of very good wine” sent his way in 2015.
In August, Professor Williamson will be a plenary speaker at the International Congress of Mathematics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The ICM meets every four years and awards the highest honour in mathematics, the Fields Medal.
He is the first mathematician working in Australia to present at a plenary of the ICM.
Australian-born US-based mathematician Terence Tao presented at the ICM in 2006, the year he won the Fields Medal.
Professor Williamson is an alumnus of the University, completing a Bachelor of Arts in 2003 receiving honours and the University Medal in pure mathematics. He completed his doctorate at the Albert-Ludwigs University in Freiburg, Germany in 2008.