SIAM AG on Orthogonal Polynomials and Special Functions


Extract from OP-SF NET


Topic #4  ------------   OP-SF NET 8.1  --------------  January 15, 2001
From: Adam McBride (
Subject: Ian Sneddon Obituary


Ian Naismith Sneddon, formerly Simson Professor of Mathematics in the 
University of Glasgow, died suddenly on 4 November 2000, aged 80.

Ian Sneddon was born in Glasgow and gained a First Class honours degree in
Mathematics and Natural Philosophy at the University of Glasgow in 1940.
He then headed off to Cambridge and did Part II of the Tripos. However,
the normal progression was interrupted because of the Second World War and
he went to the Armaments Research and Development Establishment at Fort
Halstead. There he met the eminent physicist Nevill (later Sir Nevill)
Mott and their collaboration continued after the War, leading to the
publication of a book on Wave Mechanics. By that time, Ian had returned to
Glasgow to take up a lectureship in Natural Philosophy. He was awarded a
DSc in 1948.

His interests were gradually moving from theoretical physics to classical
applied mathematics. In 1950, aged just 30, he was appointed the first
Professor of Mathematics at what was later to become the University of
Keele. However, Ian's heart was always in Glasgow and in 1956 he was
appointed to the new Simson Chair of Mathematics (named after the
geometer Robert Simson who is commemorated by the Simson Line of a
triangle). From then until the end of his days, Ian served the University
of Glasgow with great distinction, continuing as an Honorary Senior
Research Fellow after his official retirement in 1985.

Ian published many papers, covering topics ranging from elasticity through
ODEs and PDEs to applications of mathematics in biology and medicine.
However, it is perhaps through his textbooks that he is known to the
widest audience. In 1951 there appeared a large treatise on Fourier
Transforms, followed a few years later by one on Partial Differential
Equations. Special Functions were an enduring interest and Ian contributed
a volume on this topic to a series of undergraduate texts produced by the
Edinburgh firm of Oliver and Boyd, a series which was well known to
undergraduates of the 60s such as the present writer.

Later he wrote "The Use of Integral Transforms" (McGraw-Hill, 1972).
The front cover of my copy manages to get Ian's middle initial wrong but
otherwise it is a splendid book. The preface says that the book was based
on lectures to postgraduate students of Applied Mathematics, Physics and
Engineering given at various times in the University of Glasgow, North
Carolina State University and the State University of New York at Stony
Brook. This vividly illustrates the point that Ian was by then what the
airlines would now call a frequent flyer or a world traveller. A famous
quote summed it up thus: "If you stand at any crossroads in any American
city and wait long enough, Ian Sneddon will pass by" !

On one trip to Canada, he did some work with my own thesis supervisor,
Arthur Erdelyi, which is close to my heart. They showed how the
Erdelyi-Kober operators of Fractional Calculus could be used to study
systematically Dual Integral Equations of Titchmarsh type such as arise
from problems in potential theory. Previously, various authors had treated
special cases in an ad hoc manner. Erdelyi and Sneddon produced a unified
and elegant theory. This and other applications of Fractional Calculus are
discussed in Sneddon's wide-ranging survey article in the Proceedings of
the 1974 New Haven conference on Fractional Calculus, edited by Bertram
Ross (Lecture Notes in Mathematics, Vol 457, Springer, 1975) as well as
in his book on Mixed Boundary-Value Problems in Potential Theory 
(North-Holland, 1966).

Apart from his transatlantic journeys, Ian had a strong affinity with
Poland. One vehicle for this was classical music, a lifelong passion. He
counted several composers among his close friends, notably Witold
Lutoslawski. In recognition of his work in fostering mathematical and
cultural ties between Poland and Scotland, he was made a Commander, the
Order of Polonia Restituta.

This was only one of many honours that Ian gained. He was elected a Fellow
of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1958 and a Fellow of the Royal
Society (of London) in 1983. He was made an Officer of the Order of the
British Empire (OBE) in 1969.

On the occasion of his 70th birthday a special volume on the mathematical
methods and applications of elasticity was produced, (edited by George
Eason and Ray Ogden, Ellis Horwood, 1990). In December 1999, for his 80th
birthday, another special conference was held. Ian showed more stamina
than some of younger members of the audience in sitting through seven
high-powered lectures and still leaving enough in reserve for the dinner
in the evening.

Ian liked good food, good company and good conversation. He had an almost
endless supply of anecdotes and stories to which he would regale his
friends, whether at home, at work or at lunchtimes in the Glasgow Art
Club. All of us who had the pleasure of knowing Ian have our own memories,
one of which must surely be his beautiful handwriting. Many have cause to
be grateful to Ian for advice and encouragement at various stages of their
careers. The world of Mathematics will be a poorer place without him .

Adam McBride
Department of Mathematics
University of Strathclyde
Glasgow, Scotland, UK.

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