Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Dave Broomhead @ 60

We have just hosted a two day meeting to celebrate Dave Broomhead's 60th birthday (the picture shows Dave and my wife, Fiona, in the Malvern Hills -- is it my imagination or can you see the curvature of the earth in the background?). It was a great meeting (well done to Kieran, Jerry, Mark and Helen), with an eclectic mixture of science and mathematics which reminded me of dynamical systems in the early 1980s when engineers, physicists, applied mathematicians and pure mathematicians engaged with each others problems. I was asked to give a short speech at the end of the first day, and this made me think about what makes someone a world-class researcher.

Some of it is sheer hard work (genius is 5% inspiration and 95% perspiration) but Dave also has the confidence and ability to follow his own instincts. He doesn't enter a new area because it is popular or well-funded, but because it is interesting and  he wants to learn about it. In a bean-counting era his strategy carries risks from the point of view of immediate publications, but it clearly carries long term success and keeps his ideas fresh and exciting.

Dave has many good qualities -- modesty, a democratic view of others, and a deep sense of humanity -- but what makes him outstanding as a researcher is his pig-headed insistence on setting his own agenda and not following the herd. This means that when the rest of the world catches up he always has something worthwhile to say.

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