Inaugural Lecture: Professor Nigel Tempest Bishop

14 August 2013

Deputy Vice-Chancellors, Deans, Heads of Department, colleagues, students, family and friends of Prof Bishop, ladies and gentlemen – molweni, good evening, welcome.

The University Calendar lists all the current full professors of Rhodes University. Professor Nigel Bishop, who is the Head of the Department of Mathematics, is one of the more recent entries on this list.

This evening, as is our tradition, we have the presentation of the Inaugural Lecture that follows the University conferring the status of full professor on an academic.

It is an evening on which as academic peers, colleagues, students, family, friends, and the public we celebrate the intellectual and scholarly achievements of one of our professors.

Nigel Tempest Bishop was born, and grew up, in Wimbledon, England. Contrary to popular belief, however, he never played tennis. He went on to achieve his A levels at Rutlish Grammar School in Merton, London.

His undergraduate studies were undertaken at the University of Cambridge, Caius College. As a result, he was tutored by someone who would become one of the most famous relativists of our time, Stephen Hawking.

He obtained a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) degree in mathematics, and as is normal at Cambridge, thereafter automatically obtained the MA degree.

For his doctoral studies he moved to the Department of Mathematics at the University of Southampton, where he obtained a PhD degree for a thesis on gravitation theory and cosmology. He was simultaneously elected a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Nigel moved to South Africa to take up a position as Lecturer at the University of the Witwatersrand. While at Wits he was promoted to Senior Lecturer and later Associate Professor. His first appointment as full Professor of mathematics took place at UNISA.

While at UNISA he was awarded the Vice-Chancellor’s prize for the best researcher in the Faculty of Science, and in 2001 he received the SAMS World Mathematical Year 2000 gold medal.

In 2009 he moved to Rhodes University as Professor and Head of Department of Mathematics (Pure & Applied).

Nigel has also held visiting appointments at a number of international institutions that include the universities of Cambridge and Southampton, in England; the Max-Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics in Germany; the Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics in India, and the universities of Pittsburgh and California, the Louisiana State University and California Institute of Technology, all in the US.

He held the position of Director of the Research Centre for Computational Relativity, Astrophysics and Cosmology (CRAC) at UNISA, a visiting Grand Challenge scientist to the Albert Einstein Institute of Gravitational Physics in Berlin Germany, and was a faculty associate for the Binary Black Hole Grand Challenge Alliance.

At the University of Southampton he was a project manager for Genesis, an EEC funded project to develop a new generation of supercomputers, and a research fellow for a project of Numerical relativity on a transputer array.

He has successfully supervised nine Masters theses, two PhDs and three Postdoctoral students. He is currently supervising one Masters and four PhDs.

Nigel has also been an external examiner at various South African universities for courses at all levels and for various research dissertations. On occasion he has been a consultant to engineering and legal firms.

But Nigel’s contributions to mathematics and relativity go beyond the science. He has served as President of the South African Gravity Society. For many years he has been on the Council of the South African Mathematical Society, serving two terms as President.

He is a founding Director of the South African Mathematics Foundation, and is its current Chair. Amongst other activities the Foundation is responsible for mathematics olympiads in South Africa, and South Africa’s involvement in international competitions.

The International Mathematics Olympiad will be held for the first time in Africa in July 2014, hosted by the Foundation in Cape Town. Internationally, he has served on the Council of the International Society on General Relativity and Gravitation, and this year he is the Society’s Election Officer.

Over the years Nigel has proved himself a valued member of the Departments and Faculties in which he has worked. At Wits he edited a magazine produced by the Department of Computational and Applied Mathematics for schools, chairperson of the Mathematical Sciences Committee and Assistant Dean (financial planning).

At UNISA he was acting chair of Applied Mathematics, a member and chairman of several committees, a Vice-Dean and at times Acting Dean and represented UNISA on the National Science and Technology Forum for five years.

Since arriving at Rhodes as the Head of Department of Mathematics (Pure & Applied) he has sat on Senate and been a member of the University Research Committee, as well as the Information Technology Steering Committee.

He is currently NRF B2 rated and his funding agencies include the NRF and the National Science Foundation (USA).

He actively presents his work at national and international conferences in addition to presenting invited seminars all over the world. He has also refereed for several professional journals, including Physical Review D, Classical and Quantum Gravity, General Relativity and Gravitation, and Astronomy and Astrophysics.

Nigel is the author or co-author of over 70 scientific publications, and three books. The subjects of this work range from mathematical analysis to computer programming, from quantum gravity to discoveries about the horizons of black holes, and from cosmology to the theory of travel faster than light. However, for many years the focus of his work has been on gravitational waves, which is the subject of tonight’s lecture.

Nigel’s research is mainly concerned with the computation of gravitational wave emission from events involving black holes. Most work in this area uses a formalism in which spacetime is foliated into spacelike hypersurfaces. However, the approach that he is (mainly) using foliates spacetime into null cones, which has the advantage of computational efficiency, as well as leading directly to the gravitational radiation at infinity.

In particular, he works on characteristic extraction, in which the null cone and spacelike hypersurface approaches are combined; the advantage of this hybrid method is both accuracy and efficiency.

Also, the null cone approach can be applied in cosmology, in which it is in principle possible to use observed data on the past null cone to compute the past behaviour of the universe.

Due to advances in computer technology, there is now the computational capacity to perform a fully three-dimensional numerical evolution of the Einstein equations. Also, gravitational wave detectors based on laser interferometry have been developed, and a number of such installations are in use in various parts of the world (e.g. LIGO in the USA.).

These two factors underpin the current worldwide interest in numerical relativity: there is both the need, and the capacity, to compute the gravitational waveforms from various astrophysical events, so as to be able to assist with the detection process, and to interpret correctly the data expected from gravitational wave detectors.

Nigel has two children, living in Pretoria and Cape Town, and is married to Dr ?zlem Ta?tan Bishop, who is also at Rhodes University, in the Department of Biochemistry.

I am sure that they join me in taking great pleasure in inviting Professor Nigel Bishop to address us this evening.

Last Modified: Mon, 17 Nov 2014 11:07:49 SAST