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Maths saviour honoured

Professor Larry Forbes and Dr David Warren

The contribution of an inspiring professor will live on.

Physics and mathematics stalwart Professor Larry Forbes’s immense contribution to the University of Tasmania will endure, thanks to the establishment of a new scholarship in his name.

It was a fitting way to mark the retirement of this highly influential applied mathematician, teacher and researcher, who is credited with reinvigorating the disciplines, inspiring students and conducting world-class research.

The endowed scholarship was established through a gift made by alumnus Dr David Warren (BSc Hons 1981, Hon DSc 2008), which attracted a matched gift through the University. The Forbes and Warren Honours Scholarship in Mathematics and Physics provides students with financial assistance of $10,000.

Dr Warren studied Mathematics and Physics at the University in the 70s, the “heyday of post-war physics”. Following this exciting period of invention and experimentation, the subjects fell out of favour in the late 80s and enrolments began to plummet across the tertiary education sector. Some universities decided to stop offering both subjects. Dr Warren was invited to be part of a committee to consider the future of the subjects at the University of Tasmania.

“In my view, when you have a University that serves the State, there is a minimum card of subjects you have to carry otherwise you’ll be regarded as a tinpot university with meaningless degrees, so I fought hard to retain both subjects,” Dr Warren said.

A decision was made to amalgamate the subjects and the first head of Mathematics and Physics was the dynamic Professor Forbes, who arrived at the University in 2000.

“He really reversed the tide and cemented Tasmania’s position on the map, and I want to make sure Professor Larry Forbes’s contribution isn’t forgotten.”

Prof Forbes remembers resisting the pressure to close the Physics Department, which had a strong focus on Astronomy.

“With the tireless support of Dr Warren, we set about revamping and modernising the course material in Mathematics and Physics, and re-establishing a strong research culture in Mathematics too,” Prof Forbes said.

“Today, both Mathematics and Physics have a suite of good, internationally benchmarked subjects that I think we can all feel proud of, and our top Tassie students can match it with the best in the world.

“We have a terrific group of collegially minded academics  in Mathematics and Physics, who carry out innovative research programmes in Astronomy, Mathematical Biology and Fluid Mechanics, and mentor research students working in these fields.”

Prof Forbes said he was proud of what was being achieved  in the two disciplines.

“I am enormously grateful to Dave and Michelle Warren for all their wonderful support and encouragement over a sustained period, and it really is an enormous honour to share a named Honours Scholarship in Mathematics with them.”

Dr Warren said he decided to establish an Honours scholarship after reflecting on his own experience as a scholarship recipient and a student who flourished in his Honours year.

An Honours-year trip to Alice Springs as a Balloon Payload Orientation specialist, and electronics/microprocessor  tech was a crucial moment in his career, providing exposure to experts and potential future employers from around  the globe.

“I got back from that expedition and I had offers to work  in the USA, Germany and London,” Dr Warren said.

Even though he didn’t take them up, this formative experience elevated his professional standing and he became highly sought after in his home state.

“Many people do their undergraduate degree and once they have that piece of paper they leave, but for me, Honours was a turning point,” Dr Warren said.

“It’s a further commitment, it’s rightly challenging, and you have to delay getting an income for another year, but it gives you a richer view of your discipline and opens you up to opportunities, particularly the chance to connect with other people from around the world, which is really important if you live in Tasmania.”

Through this new scholarship, Dr Warren hopes to provide other students with the same opportunity he was afforded through his Honours studies: the year that ultimately set him up for success.

While Dr Warren is perhaps best known for co-founding an ASX 200 software company, his passion and commitment to philanthropy and his University is palpable.

His support, both as a donor and serving on the University Foundation Committee enables him to continue to shape the future of the University and the State.

In 2016, he generously donated $2.6 million to the University to establish the David Warren Chair of Astrophysics, a position taken up by renowned French researcher Dr Jean-Philippe Beaulieu.

He also supports the FSAE Electric Research Project, Honours Scholarships in Optical Astronomy, the Waterworth Optical Collection and the Greenhill Observatory.

Image: Professor Larry Forbes, left, and Dr David Warren
Published on: 02 Jul 2021 2:23pm