Professor Rodney Baxter has received a Royal Medal for his work in mathematics, which is a pretty cool thing to happen to a retired mathematician.
Professor Baxter, who retired in 2003 after almost 35 years at ANU, says he was very pleased to receive the news, which he almost mistook for junk mail.
“The news came in the form of a letter from the Royal Society and when I saw it on my desk I just put it in my pocket thinking ‘oh, it’s just another circular’,” he says. “So I was carrying it around for a couple of hours before I actually read it.”
Professor Baxter, who is “still doing his sums” 10 years after retirement, was chosen as a Royal Medallist for his “remarkable” contribution to the field of statistical mechanics.
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“Statistical mechanics is about the way atoms behave when they’re together,” he explains. “Water is water is water, but it’s also steam and ice. The only difference is if it’s cold it likes to huddle together in the form of a solid, and when you boil water it expands.
“So I’ve spent my career trying to come up with models that explain phase transitions. I’m trying to provide a pathway between the theory and the experimental evidence.
“I came up with the ‘Hard Hexagon Model’ in 1984 to explain how helium is absorbed onto graphite, which was later compared with experimental data and found to be quite accurate.”
[Photo from ANU News]