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Ian Porteous (1930-2011)

I learned last week that Ian Porteous of Liverpool University mathematics department had passed away. I first met Ian during a conference in Liverpool when I was a postgraduate student and got to know him better around the time he retired when I had a postdoctoral position there. As everyone who met him would probably say, he was a bit of a character and always had a story to tell. Retirement didn’t seem to slow him down. He was highly active in taking mathematics out to schools with his maths roadshow and was even involved in a Masterclass the day before he died.

Sadly, I don’t have a picture of him to hand; a web search and look at his Wikipedia entry didn’t locate one either.

If you have not already done so, then have a look at his book Geometric Differentiation. It’s a trove of interesting results about the geometry of curves and surfaces. His notation is non-standard but don’t let that put you off.

Strangely enough, I had been telling my Group Theory tutorial group about him last Monday because I realized that the milk crate problem he used to carry with him on his roadshow would exemplify a point I wished to make. After the tutorial I returned to my office to find an email saying that he had died.

His contribution to the world of mathematics, in particular his work as an ambassador for the subject in his school outreach work, will be missed by many.

(The Milk crate problem: How can you arrange 6 milk bottles in a 3-by-3 milk crate so that each row contains two milk bottles and each column contains two?)

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