US veto deprives Scots of lucrative honour

October 13, 1995

Edmund Robertson and John O'Connor of St Andrews University's school of mathematical and computational sciences have won fame if not fortune for their pioneering computer software design work.

They have won the Undergraduate Computational Science Education Award administered by the United States government laboratory in Ames, Iowa, for their latest project, which uses a computer program to explain mathematical work carried out at St Andrews nearly 80 years ago.

But they have failed to win the $1,000 prize: an apologetic letter has arrived from the organisers, saying that they have just discovered in the small print of the department of energy's rules that funds cannot be given to non-Americans.

"We didn't get the $1,000 award, and we didn't get another $1,000 for expenses to go to the banquet in Washington either," said a rueful Dr O'Connor.

The American award is judged on projects posted on the World-Wide Web. Professor Robertson and Dr O'Connor describe their project in a new section of their history of mathematics archive on the Web. Called "Using a computer to visualise changes in biological organisms", it is a computer version of a process pioneered by the St Andrews University biologist D'Arcy Thompson in On Growth and Form, published in 1917.

This book was one of the most influential texts in the development of biomathematics, and the computer program is able to show in moving pictures how D'Arcy Thompson's laboriously calculated mathematics actually work.

It can be used in the software program developed by the St Andrews team, Mathematical MacTutor. Details from:


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