Mathematician recognized for career achievement

Pauline van den Driessche

Her passion, energy and a commitment to making the world a better place for everyone has earned professor emeritus Pauline van den Driessche UVic’s top research award for 2013, the David H. Turpin Gold Medal for Career Achievement in Research.

Dr. van den Driessche is an internationally recognized mathematician for her work in both mathematical biology and linear algebra. Her major impact in mathematical biology is the application of new mathematical methods to study the dynamics of epidemics. She has developed a suite of tools to analyze disease outcomes—including outbreaks, oscillating infection levels and disease extinction—as well as the impact of vaccination methods. Researchers are applying these tools to study multi-city disease dynamics, Influenza, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, and more recently, West Nile Virus.

Considering the devastating impact of these diseases, especially the resurgence of drug-resistant strains, van den Driessche’s research is at the very forefront of bettering our global society.

She joined UVic’s Department of Mathematics in 1965 as a young Assistant Professor and retired in 2006 as Professor Emerita after devoting more than 40 years to the pursuit of excellence in research and education.

In 2005, the leading linear algebra journal, Linear Algebra and its Applications, published a special issue honouring her lifetime accomplishments. The preface to that issue states: “Pauline has made significant contributions to the study of non-negative matrices, matrix factorization, matrix stability, perturbation theory, max algebra and M-matrices.”

While many may not fully—or even partially—understand these areas of mathematics, it’s important to recognize that a significant contribution to just one area deserves commendation, let alone six. Moreover, this appraisal of her “lifetime accomplishments” was based on 145 published papers. In the eight years since then, she has published an additional 70 papers. Altogether, her work has been cited more than 1600 times by more than 1000 authors. And just this year, she was elected a Fellow of SIAM, the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics.

“Not only is Pauline’s work useful, it involves beautiful and challenging analysis. In this she exemplifies the ideal applied mathematician—her work is significant in both mathematical and scientific circles,” notes Dr. Mark Lewis, Canada Research Chair in Mathematical Biology at the University of Alberta, who himself was taught by van den Driessche during his undergraduate studies at UVic, and has collaborated with her as a researcher since 1987.

“Her work in the combinatorial algebra and specially in the matrix algebra has been fundamental,” says Dr. Jianhong Wu, York University’s Canada Research Chair in Industrial and Applied Mathematics. “Some of her results in this area have become standard tools in the stability analysis of dynamical systems, and have been applied to a number of problems in neural networks, ecological systems and infectious diseases.”

Her contributions to mathematics have not gone unnoticed. She has earned national and international prizes, including, in 2007, the Krieger-Nelson Prize from the Canadian Mathematical Society and the inaugural Olga Taussky Todd Award by the International Congress of Industrial and Applied Mathematical Society. “This is a huge honor for an applied mathematician,” notes Wu.

Her current mentoring activity to graduate students is exemplifed by her unstinting service to the PIMS International Graduate Training Centre in Mathematical Biology. She has been an active participant in this centre since its inception in 2007, and continues as a great supporter and contributor, well into her retirement

This article is taken from the Fall 2013 edition of Science Matters.