Australian Maths Trust


The 2008 BH Neumann Awards were presented to Benjamin Burton, Phillip Swedosh and Steve Thornton at separate ceremonies. Their citations are following.

Peter Taylor presents the award to Ben.

Ben, with from left uncle Daniel Rees, sister Sarah Chippendale, partner Umit Ozer, father Graeme and mother Jan, at the presentation.

Ben Burton received a BH Neumann Award at a function at the Riverwalk Hotel, Melbourne, on Friday 13 June 2008. The Award was presented by AMT Executive Director Professor Peter Taylor.

Ben was born in Brisbane, and lived and went to school in Logan City. His parents were both teachers: his mother Jan taught year seven at a local primary school, and his father Graeme taught maths and computing at a local high school. Throughout his childhood, Benjamin’s family nurtured his interests in puzzles, music and creativity and he also developed an early interest in computers, which in those days required a need to program. He also developed a knowledge of Japanese while at school.

By Year 10, success in mathematics competitions led to an invitation to him from Queensland Maths Olympiad Director Neil Williams to do further mathematics training. This training program opened Ben’s eyes to mathematics and it had a dramatic effect. By Year 12 he was selected in the Australian team to participate at the International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO).

Ben undertook a strict training regime which has now become a model for others. Every day for the 90-odd days between selection and participation Ben attempted successfully to solve two IMO-style problems without accessing the solutions. By the time he got to the IMO he was excellently prepared and was successful in winning a Gold Medal, placing him among the very elite of students internationally.

Ben was sufficiently motivated by this experience to proceed to study pure mathematics at university, and he completed a science degree at the University of Queensland, extending to science/arts, studying also psychology, physics, computer science and linguistics. The linguistics particularly took his interest, to the point where he almost moved into natural language processing for his PhD.

University also rekindled Ben’s interest in music and he began to spend time in the university choir, experiencing such events as singing Mahler’s 8th with near to 1000 performers. On a much smaller scale, Ben and some friends started a five-person singing group that was largely social, though they did perform at the odd wedding or community event.

As Ben’s undergraduate career progressed he could see a clear pathway towards research and tasted some of this by attending a National Mathematics Summer School, which was research-oriented and he started looking into some problems in combinatorics. In fact, his Honours thesis under the supervision of Diane Donovan included an interesting problem involving latin squares.

For his next step, he enrolled in a PhD at the University of Melbourne, studying geometry and topology, under the supervision of Hyam Rubinstein. During his PhD studies his interest in programming came back to the fore where he began to work in designing and implementing mathematical algorithms.

At this time also he wanted to put back some of what he had learned into helping the next generation of students. He became a tutor at the National Mathematics Summer School (with Terry Gagen) and also at the Australian Mathematical Olympiad training camps (with David Hunt). He also formed a team of undergraduates at the University of Melbourne, most of whom were former IMO participants, and trained them for the ACM Universities computer programming competition, where his team came 6th of 54 teams, representing the cream of North American and other international universities.

When the Australian Mathematics Trust decided to develop a program to enter students in the International Olympiad in Informatics (IOI), in 1998, Ben and colleague Robbie Gates were the two in the forefront of the training program. Ben was the inaugural and still current Director of Training. Initially, Robbie Gates was Team Leader but Robbie moved into industry and Ben moved into both roles, having only recently divested half of this to Bernard Blackham.

Ben’s program and dedication to success, working with the most talented students, has paid enormous dividends. In the first year, 1999, his program yielded its first Bronze Medals, in 2002 a first Silver Medal and in 2006 Australia won its first IOI Gold Medal, with a further Silver also. In 2007 Australia not only won a further Gold and Silver Medal but for the first time, all four students earned medals emphasising the depth which the program had achieved.

By any measure Australia had become one of the strong countries at IOI, mixing it with the best, despite very little programming being taught in Australian schools. People from other countries are trying to discover the reason for Australia’s success. The secret is, in fact, no secret – it is Ben Burton.

Ben also studied while completing his PhD with William Jaco in Oklahoma, and continued after his PhD to do post-doctoral work with Kathy Horadam on information security at RMIT.

In Melbourne, he met his partner Umit and enjoys international films and many other cultural and travel interests. He has now finished at RMIT and has a research position in the finance industry, which offers the interesting challenge of combining research mathematics with practical concerns.

Peter Taylor
Friday 13 May 2008

Peter Taylor presents the award to Philip.

Philip with son William, wife Julie and daughter Serena.

Philip Swedosh received a BH Neumann Award at a function at the Riverwalk Hotel, Melbourne, on Saturday 16 August 2008. The Award was presented by AMT Executive Director Professor Peter Taylor.

Philip was educated at McKinnon High School, where he enjoyed mathematics. He won a Commonwealth Scholarship to study at University but withdrew from his studies to work in the corporate sector.

At the age of 25 Philip was managing the Melbourne office of Time-Life, with a staff of 45, but in the early 1980s due to an economic recession Time-Life closed 75% of its offices worldwide, including Melbourne.

As a result of this experience, it was difficult to find work. He met Julie and married her in 1984. Julie had a job in a merchant bank and Philip trained to become a mathematics teacher. Bruce Henry was one of his lecturers.

After marrying and graduating Philip and Julie went overseas for six months and on returning Phillip became a mathematics tutor at the University of Melbourne. Here he collaborated with Frank Barrington and John Clark while completing a PhD in mathematics education.

Since 1993 Philip has been a VCE mathematics examiner. He has also been on the setting panel for Specialist Mathematics since 1997. From 1998 he was a group leader for the combined Department of Education and MAV camp, which he also directed from 2000 to 2002.

Philip has been a moderator for the Mathematics Challenge for Young Australians since 1993 and Victorian Director of the Australian Mathematics Olympiad Committee since 1998. He was also a member of the organising committee for the Melbourne Conference of the World Federation of National Mathematics Competitions in 2002. Since 2001 Philip has been Head of the Mathematics Department of St Leonard’s College.

Peter Taylor
Saturday 16 August 2008

Peter Taylor presents the award to Steve.

Steve with the Mathematics Challenge for Young Australians Problems Committee.

Steve Thornton received a BH Neumann Award at a function at the Scarth Room, University House, Australian National University, on Saturday 31 May 2008. The Award was presented by AMT Executive Director Professor Peter Taylor.

Steve has had a significant impact on mathematics teaching and learning in Australia, in a number of ways, including:

  • He has served more than ten years as a member of the Mathematics Challenge for Young Australians Problems Committee.
  • He has served various terms as President and Secretary of the Australian Association of Mathematics Teachers and also held various offices with the Mathematics Association of South Australia and the Canberra Mathematics Association.
  • He developed the Australian Mathematics Teacher Enrichment Program, run through the University of Canberra, which enabled qualified mathematics teachers to help students who wished to pursue further mathematics study.

Born in Birmingham, England, Steve arrived in Australia with his parents at the age of six, undergoing primary and secondary schooling at Elizabeth. He went on to study Honours mathematics and chemistry, and then obtained teacher qualifications at the Adelaide College of Advanced Education.

Steve’s introduction to teaching was to go to Papua New Guinea in 1973 and teach in a local high school near Rabaul, whereas a first-year teacher he was made the head of mathematics and science. In Papua New Guinea he also played for the New Guinea Islands in the national cricket championship.

Back in South Australia Steve first taught at Allendale East Area School south of Mount Gambier. After four years in the South East of South Australia, he moved to Adelaide and taught at Reynella East High School before moving on to become Head of Mathematics at Prince Alfred College, where he stayed for six years until 1997.

In 1997 Steve moved to Canberra, where he worked with the Australian Mathematics Trust, developing a Graduate Certificate course for teachers, accredited at the University of Canberra. He is now a lecturer at the University of Canberra, training mathematics teachers.

Peter Taylor
Saturday 31 May 2008