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A legacy of excellence in applied mathematics

- Wits University

Prof. David Mason from the School of Computer Science and Applied Mathematics has dedicated his life to inspiring excellence and producing quality graduates.

Mason, a respected academic in the field of applied mathematics has produced 21 masters and 11 PhD students under his supervision and co-supervision. As an Emeritus Professor in the School, he continues to supervise and co-supervise postgraduate students. Mason has been an exemplar of excellence to his students, publishing over one 100 articles in ISI accredited journals. He makes innovative use of applied mathematics as a medium for transformation and human capacity development through his postgraduate student supervision and generation of new and relevant knowledge.

David Mason, Emeritus Professor in School of Computer Science and Applied Mathematics at Wits

A distinguished scientist, Mason first joined Wits University as a lecturer in the Department of Applied Mathematics after which he was promoted through the ranks to the position of Ad Hominem Chair of Theoretical Mechanics in July 1986. He was Chair of Applied Mathematics in 1991 and retired from that position in 2009. He served as Head of the Department of Applied Mathematics for the periods 1988 to 1990 and 1997 to 2000. Mason completed his BSc Honours First Class (Mathematics and Physics) at the University of Glasgow in 1966. He went on to complete a DPhil at Oxford University in 1970 shortly before joining Wits.

The development of emerging researchers is a cause close to his heart. He raised funds for top computer science and applied mathematics students from North West, Limpopo and KwaZulu Natal to attend a Graduate Student Problem Solving Workshop in September where experts teach mathematical problem-solving skills. Through this workshop and other initiatives, Mason has taken it upon himself to contribute to the development of innovation in problem-solving in the discipline of applied mathematics in universities across South Africa.

Students use the skills they have learned at the Graduate Student Problem Solving Workshop to participate actively in the Industrial Mathematics Study Group meetings. Some of the industries that have brought problems to the Industrial Mathematics Study Group meetings have gone on to hire these students as a result of their performance at these study group meetings. 

In a quest to contribute to the academic development of his students, Professor Mason works closely with his higher degree students to co-publish research articles with them, which has positively impacted on generating well qualified academic staff. These students who are now pursuing academic careers are based mainly at Wits University, but others are also based at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, the University of Swaziland, the University of South Africa and the Lahore School of Economics in Pakistan.  Other higher degree students are employed in banks, and one recently in a consultancy, where their problem-solving skills are highly valued.

Professor Mason’s contribution to Applied Mathematics in South Africa is immeasurable over five decades. Mason is regarded by many as the Father of Modern Fluid Mechanics in South Africa. He is one of the main reasons that research in Fluid Dynamics and in general Applied Mathematics has thrived, is ongoing, and attracts many young researchers.

He has conducted pioneering work in the modelling of fluid flow problems and the use of mathematical techniques to tease out analytical solutions. He is most famous for successfully implementing the Lie symmetry method. Unlike most researchers, Professor Mason is known for solving problems that keep both invariant boundary conditions and invariant solutions. He was pivotal in forming the Differential Equations and Continuum Mechanics research group at Wits and ensured its success locally and internationally.

One of the significant contributions that Professor Mason has made to research is in the calculation of conservation laws admitted by partial differential equations modelling jet flow. Professor Mason is  the first in the world to demonstrate that one can successfully determine conservation laws without using Lagrangians via the Kara-Mahomed theorem to obtain physically meaningful conservation laws. Professor Mason has then gone on to determine solutions to the nonlinear partial differential equations he was modelling that corresponds to the conservation laws in an elegant manner.  

At age 75, Professor Mason has made, and continues to make, a significant contribution to human capacity development in the discipline of Applied Mathematics across South Africa. He continues to develop and innovate in problem-solving in the discipline of applied mathematics.