The 2021 ANZIAM Medal

Citation for Nalini Joshi

The ANZIAM medal is our society’s most prestigious medal, recognising research achievement, wide-ranging activities enhancing the discipline of applied and industrial mathematics, and contributions to ANZIAM. Nalini Joshi’s sustained contributions in these three areas over a long time make her a most deserving recipient of the ANZIAM medal.

Nalini Joshi in front of a blackboard
Photo credit: Annie Fenwicke

Nalini is a world leader in the theory and applications of differential equations that form the basis of understanding the effects of random behaviour in fields as diverse as particle physics, quantum mechanics, large prime-number distributions, and wireless communications. She has made unparalleled contributions to applied mathematics in leadership, gender equity, and promotion of mathematics and she has been a consistent and active member of ANZIAM.

Research Achievements

Nalini received her PhD from Princeton in 1987 under the supervision of Martin Kruskal. After periods at ANU, The University of New South Wales and the University of Adelaide, she moved to The University of Sydney in 2002, where she now holds the position of Payne-Scott Professor and Chair of Applied Mathematics.

Classical mathematical modelling typically relies on linear models, but much of the world is not linear; examples include water waves in the ocean and the fluctuations of infected cells in the bloodstream. Prediction of such nonlinear systems is necessary for understanding and controlling our world, but the difficulty of prediction is compounded by singularities,

where functions become immeasurable. There is a dearth of existing tools for describing such nonlinear singular systems.

Nalini has pioneered innovative methodologies for describing these, with a particular focus on integrable systems such as the Painlevé equations. Her deep understanding of nonlinear systems has enabled her to develop simple, precise definitions of functions, yielding

descriptions that extend to the whole domain of existence. In particular, she has shown how to relate behaviour before and after a critical transition-point in applications such as quantum tunnelling, spontaneous magnetisation in metals, and water waves with surface tension. Her new methodologies have uncovered hidden information across multiple fields and sparked significant new research programmes across the globe.

Nalini has written over one hundred peer-reviewed papers together with authored and edited monographs. Her outstanding contributions to mathematics have earned her numerous accolades, including Fellowship of the Australian Academy of Sciences in 2008, the London Mathematical Society’s prestigious Hardy Fellowship in 2015, a Bragg Membership of the Royal Institution of Australia in 2019, the 2019 NSW Premier’s Prize for Excellence in Mathematics, Chemistry, Physics and Geosciences and, most recently, the 2020 Szekeres Medal of the Australian Mathematical Society.

Contributions to the Discipline

In 2012, Nalini was awarded an Australian Research Council (ARC) Laureate Fellowship, which is the most prestigious fellowship that can be funded by the ARC in any discipline. In addition, she was named as the ARC Georgina Sweet Laureate Fellow for that year, with extra funding for activities to promote and support women in research. Nalini used her Georgina Sweet Fellowship to initiate and support activities such as the Women in Mathematics Lunches at the annual ANZIAM conferences. The value of such events, raising awareness, providing support and networking opportunities, and strengthening a sense of community, cannot be underestimated.

Nalini was due to start a Leverhulme Visiting Professorship in the UK in 2020 and has often been invited as principal speaker by prominent overseas mathematical associations. She is a member of the editorial boards of four international journals, has served on the ARC Selection Advisory Committee and been Co-Chair of the ARC Future Fellowships panel.

Nalini is a Vice-President of the International Mathematical Union as well as serving on national and international panels. She was the first female professor of mathematics, and the first woman to be Head of The School of Mathematical Sciences at The University of Sydney and President of the Australian Mathematical Society.

Nalini has worked tirelessly to promote mathematics, including applied mathematics, to the wider scientific community and general public. She was instrumental in the development of the Decadal Plan for Mathematical Sciences. She has been a panellist on the ABC’s Q&A and is frequently interviewed on mathematics education both online and on the radio. In 2016, she was appointed an officer of the Order of Australia “for distinguished service to mathematical science and tertiary education as an academic, author and researcher, to professional societies, and as a role model and mentor of young mathematicians” and in 2018, she was awarded the Eureka prize for Outstanding Mentor of Young Researchers.

Nalini is especially famous for creating new ways to encourage, support and retain women in STEM careers. Her work on diversity, including the creation of the Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) initiative, has resulted in influential actions and impact across the nation.

Service to ANZIAM

In addition to her numerous high-profile engagements, Nalini has been a strong supporter of ANZIAM and a regular participant of its annual meetings. Her role in initiating and supporting the Women in Mathematics Lunches at the annual ANZIAM conferences has already been mentioned above. She has also, served on the Executive Committee of ANZIAM and the JH Michell Medal Selection Committee.

In summary, Nalini combines a distinguished research record and numerous prestigious awards with an outstanding contribution to the leadership of our discipline. She is a most deserving winner of the 2021 ANZIAM Medal.

Updated: 13 Jul 2021