Professor Sir Vaughan Jones

Elected: 2018

Area(s): Science, Technology, Engineering, Medicine & Mathematics

Specialist Subject(s): Mathematics

It is with much regret that we report the death of Professor Sir Vaughan Jones, one of our Honorary Fellows.

Mathematics was revolutionised by Sir Vaughan in the early 1980s when he found deep connections between subfactors, analytic objects in the theory of operator algebras and topological objects, knots and links in three-dimensional space.

His remarkable and unexpected discovery of the Jones polynomial associated to knots and links resolved, amongst other things, problems left open since the 19th century on the Tait conjectures. This rapidly opened up vast new areas of research in wide areas of mathematics in analysis, algebra, geometry and topology. Subsequent developments have found applications and connections with statistical mechanics and random matrices, quantum field theory in physics and the topology of DNA strands and protein folding.

For these breakthroughs he received the Fields Medal, the mathematical equivalent of the Nobel Prize, and also received the Rutherford Medal and the Onsager Medal. He was a Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand Te Apārangi and of the Royal Society, a Member of the US National Academy of Sciences, and a Foreign Member of several other national learned societies.

Sir Vaughan was the Distinguished Professor and Stevenson Professor at Vanderbilt University, and Director of the New Zealand Mathematics Research Institute.