Ian Porteous, 1930 - 2011

Ian Porteous, 1930 - 2011

He is remembered not only for his academic work but, especially in recent years, for the unflagging commitment he brought to the enrichment of school mathematics through such initiatives as the FunMaths Roadshow (www.funmathsroadshow.com). Following a PhD in algebraic geometry with Michael Atiyah at Cambridge, Ian moved to Liverpool University in 1959. Apart from a year 1961-2 at Columbia University, where he was greatly influenced by the teaching and seminar activity of Serge Lang, Ian spent his whole career at Liverpool, as lecturer and from 1972 as senior lecturer, retiring in 1998. His research interests moved from algebraic geometry to singularity theory, particularly the differential geometry of surfaces; the book 'Geometric Differentiation' expounds much of his work in this area.

Ian was elected a Liberal local councillor in 1974 and for two of his four years in office he was deputy chair of the Liverpool Education Committee. He put his knowledge of local schools to good use in 1975 when, at the instigation of the recently appointed Professor James Taylor as head of Pure Mathematics at Liverpool, a new organization was formed to bring mathematics which was engaging and fun into schools. Mathematical Education on Merseyside (MEM), a charity since 1986, still flourishes and provides Challenge competitions and Masterclasses on the Royal Institution pattern as well as a MEM Orbiter (MEMO) newsletter three times a year for schools. From 1978 to 1985 there was even a 'Radio Challenge', hosted by Radio City and with a well-known DJ as questionmaster for teams from local schools. Ian was deeply involved in all these initiatives and was President of MEM from 1983 until his death.

In 1999 the Liverpool Mathematical Society, a branch of the Mathematical Association, celebrated its centenary. A grant of £2000 from Girobank (then based in Bootle) to be spent on work with schools enabled the production of the first 'boxes' of what became the FunMaths Roadshow. The activities were produced by a panel of teachers and lecturers and in the years since then the Roadshow has become something of a national institution, attracting three consecutive EPSRC grants and earning a significant independent income from going into schools and selling the activities on a CD. It is now up to Version 5, with Version 6 being trialled, and is also available in French, Welsh, Gaelic, Portuguese and Mandarin. Polish and Urdu are planned. In all these developments, Ian was a key player, making friends and contacts wherever he went, gathering around him through sheer enthusiasm and commitment a dedicated Outreach Team of present and former students, university staff and others.

Ian was also dedicated to the Liverpool University Maths Club, formed in 1999 with Alexander Movchan. Meeting on the last Saturday of each month during the school year, this answers a demand from keen youngsters for a more advanced follow-up to the MEM Masterclasses. It was on the Saturday, the day before he died, that he gave an interactive presentation to the club's audience of schoolchildren on amazing properties of certain permutations of six objects, 'Duads, Synthemes and Synthematic Totals', the terminology coming from J.J.Sylvester in the 19th century.

Ian celebrated his golden wedding and his 80th birthday in 2010, the latter by climbing Crinkle
Crags in the Lake District with a group of young friends. He wanted above all to inspire and enthuse young people with mathematics and with his love of the hills and wild places. He is survived by his wife Shiona, three children and six grandchildren.