Working with Jon at the Centre for Experimental and Computational Mathematics

Hearing the words of Jon’s family and colleagues at the podium of Logan Funeral Home, the sad fact that Jon had left us set in. Perhaps it is my unconscientious effort to escape the gloomy reality that the memories of the early days when I begin my postdoc work at CECM under the guidance of Jon emerges. It all starts in fall 1993 and what I learned from Jon in CECM, which afterwards still benefits me.

“I think in blocks” was Jon’s answer to my question on how did he work simultaneously with more than a dozen mentees of postdoctoral fellows, Ph.D. students, master students and many visitors. Jon explained that one would always need to be able to deal with the technical details but understood the big picture first was important.

One of the central theme Jon emphasized at the centre was that mathematics is an experiment science. Jon encouraged all of us at the center to use both numerical and symbolic computations whenever appropriate to generate intuitions, verify conjectures and construct counter-examples.

Jon encouraged all the members of the centre to learn the work of others through seminar, colloquium and daily interactions in the centre. He especially encouraged us to get involved in projects of different natures. I remember getting involved in programming related to applications of entropy maximization while working mainly on nonsmooth analysis. The benefit is still felt now when I work on financial mathematics where both the knowledge of entropy maximization and the skill of computer programming help a lot.

Most importantly, Jon led by example. He directed and involved in all the projects in the centre. Despite the large numbers of mentorees and visitors, each of us got time every week for formal discussions. If an idea or issue occurred Jon would also address them timely. I often found in the morning his comments to my email sent the previous night, time stamped at 1:00 or 2:00 am. Amazingly, we still saw him in the lab before 8:00 in the morning with a cup of coffee, and he swam 1:00 pm in the afternoon almost every day.

Work with Jon was fun too. There were causal potluck dinners in Jon’s home with a great view of a scenic inlet. Judi usually awaited with delicious food and we scattered around enjoying the food, the scenery and the conversations. There were group excursions and the Trekkers would gather to watch the latest episode together. Jon made the centre an exciting working environment.

CECM typified Jon’s working and leadership style. Since that time I have visited Jon many times in CECM, Halifax and in recent years in CARMA at the University of Newcastle. In every place, Jon stimulated and led mathematicians producing exciting works, one group after another. It is said that every departed person left behind a hole. In the case of Jon, he left a huge crater that no one can hope to fill. [Qiji Jim Zhu, Western Michigan University]

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