Douglas Samuel Jones


Born: 10 January 1922 in Corby, Northamptonshire, England
Died: 26 November 2013 in Perth, Scotland

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Douglas Jones was the son of Jesse Dewis Jones (1887-1932) and Bessie Streather (1900-1992). Jesse Jones, born in Little Harrowden, Northamptonshire, worked for Tarmac, a firm founded in 1903 dealing with road surfacing and building materials. Jesse married Bessie Streather (born in Corby), in Kettering, Northamptonshire, in 1921. He became a general manager of Tarmac in the year Douglas was born and the family moved, first to Redcar, then to Bilston close to Wolverhampton where the Tarmac headquarters was situated. Douglas spent his childhood in Dale View, Wolverhampton Street, Bilston. He was the eldest of his parents' four children having a younger brother Gerald (born 1926 and known as Jimy), and two sisters Doris (known as Dot) and Joyce (born 1929).

Jesse Jones [16]:-

... captained the village cricket team and played soccer for Nottingham Forest. He was also a keen gambler, playing cards (at which he invariably won) and attending greyhound race meetings (where he frequently lost). He was also fond of horse racing, which he managed to attend more often than might be imagined because of his habit of working every day of the week including Sunday; this allowed him some flexibility in arranging time off.
After World War I began, he enlisted on 5 June 1915 and served in the Royal Fusiliers. He was severely wounded and, reaching the rank of Acting Corporal, he was discharged on 24 December 1918. He was awarded the British War Medal and Victory Medal. Working for Tarmac he was manager of the works sports teams and, his wife being the club tennis champion, the whole family attended sports events whenever possible. Jesse recovered from pneumonia in 1930 but contracted double pneumonia two years later and died on 12 January 1932, two days after Douglas's tenth birthday [16]:-
Jesse left behind the memory of a warm, loving, vigorous and kindly man, a house covered by an insurance policy, but no money; it had all gone on gambling but none on drink, for he was a strict teetotaller.
From that time on, Bessie had to bring up her four children in extremely difficult circumstances. Douglas had attended Ettingshall Primary School from 1927 to 1931. Leaving the Primary School he had begun his studies at the fee paying Wolverhampton Grammar School not long before the death of his father. The sudden change in his family's financial circumstances meant that he could only continue at the school if he won a scholarship but he was able to win a scholarship which, in addition to covering the fees, also gave him free lunches, free travel and a clothing allowance. His brother and sisters became boarders at the Royal Wolverhampton School and their term-time expenses were completely covered. Of course Bessie still needed an income which she did as a shorthand teacher in the evenings and taking in lodgers to supplement her income.

Despite the poverty, it was a happy childhood for the four children. Douglas excelled in Latin and Greek at the Grammar School and was advised to enter the Civil Service. He took a full part in the school activities and became a Senior Prefect, House Captain, Captain of the Chess Team and the Cricket Team, and Vice Captain of the Soccer Team. Having obtained his School Certificate, he decided to spend one more year at the Grammar School to prepare for the Executive Class of the Civil Service. Competition for this was great and Douglas was not at all confident that he would make the grade so he decided to change from the Latin and Greek that he loved to mathematics. In some ways this was a strange choice since he was not fond of mathematics at school but his mother had enjoyed geometry at school and had persuaded her son to give it a try. At this stage he was still aiming at the Executive Class of the Civil Service.

Jones was still at school when World War II broke out in September 1939 and he had some military experience being in the Officers' Training Corps as part of his school activities. He now contributed to the war effort making gas masks and helping dig air raid shelters. Recruitment into the Civil Service stopped because of the war and Bessie suggested that her son should consider going to university. She had become a clerk and was earning more money than before but there was still no way she could support him through university. He took the examinations for the Mathematical Scholarship at Corpus Christi College, Oxford and was awarded the second scholarship. This would not have given him sufficient to attend Oxford University but he also won a Staffordshire Major Scholarship and was awarded a Kitchener Scholarship. He began his studies at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, but joined the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve in December 1941 and worked for the Signals Branch, later known as the Signals Radar Branch. He flew many missions in Boulton Paul Defiant planes sitting in the gun turret making measurements of German radar frequencies for jamming purposes [16]:-

His war service was recognised by the award of an MBE and by being Mentioned in Dispatches.
Back at Oxford in 1945 he attended lectures by Henry Whitehead, whom Jones described as the worst lecturer he ever experienced, and Ughtred Shuttleworth Haslam-Jones, who he considered the best. Haslam-Jones (1903-1962) had been a student of G H Hardy and had graduated with a D.Phil. in 1928 with a thesis The theory of functions of a complex variable. Jones' tutor was Frederick Bernard Pidduck (1885-1952) who suggested that he try for a Commonwealth Fund Scholarship so that he could spend a year in the United States. Jones was successful and joined Freeman Dyson, the other successful candidate in 1947. While still an undergraduate, Jones wrote Note on an electrostatic problem which was published in 1948.

Graduating from Oxford in 1947 with an M.A., Jones spent the academic year 1947-48 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States. Although his intention had been to work on electrical engineering advised by Julius Adams Stratton (1901-1994) he discovered that Adams was very busy and not interested in research students. He therefore studied courses on physics and, in particular, medical applications of physics [16]:-

At the end of this year Douglas went on a grand tour of the USA, visiting about 40 states in the company of John Westcott (1920-2014). It was a wonderful experience and he would have been tempted to seek a position had it not been for his desire to return to see his mother and the rest of the family. In addition, Douglas had secured an appointment as assistant lecturer at Manchester University
When Jones was appointed to Manchester, Sydney Goldstein was head of the Mathematics Department. Also on the staff were Max Newman, James Lighthill and Alan Turing. Goldstein left Manchester in 1950 to become professor in Applied Mathematics and Chairman of the Department of Aeronautical Engineering at Technion in Haifa, Israel. At this time Lighthill became the Beyer Professor of Applied Mathematics at Manchester. Jones published two papers in 1950, namely Diffraction by a metal wedge at large angles which he coauthored with his Oxford tutor F B Pidduck, and Note on diffraction by an edge in which he wrote:-
I wish to express my appreciation of some helpful comments by Professor S Goldstein.
For a complete list of Douglas Jones' publications, see THIS LINK.

Once Jones' position in Manchester became permanent he was able to marry Ivy Styles on 23 September 1950 in Bilston. Douglas and Ivy Jones had two children; Helen Elizabeth Jones (born 28 May 1958) and Philip Andrew Jones (born 9 February 1960).

In 1956 Jones spent time in New York at the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences where he was a visiting professor. There he collaborated with Morris Kline and their joint work led to the important joint paper Asymptotic expansion of multiple integrals and the method of stationary phase (1958). While he was in New York, Jones applied for the position of Simson Professor of Mathematics at the University of Glasgow, Scotland, which would make whoever was appointed the head of the Department of Applied Mathematics, a new Department being set up by Glasgow. The other strong candidate for this position was Ian Sneddon who, after working in Glasgow, had taken up the chair of mathematics at the University College of North Staffordshire (which in 1962 became Keele University). Ian Sneddon was appointed to the position in Glasgow in 1956 and this left the chair of mathematics at the University College of North Staffordshire vacant. Jones applied for this chair and was appointed, taking up position in 1957 [16]:-

It was at Keele that Douglas first showed his remarkable ability to balance outstanding leadership and commitment to administrative duties with mathematical research and scholarship. For a while as the head of department busily engaged in building on the work done by Ian Sneddon to secure a lively and active department, and as Dean of Science from 1959 to 1962, he continued his researches into high-frequency scattering and wrote his monumental 807-page book 'The theory of electromagnetism'. This book alone would have cemented Douglas's reputation as world leader.
For extracts from reviews of Jones' books, see THIS LINK.

The visit that Jones had made to the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences in New York in 1956 had been very successful and, in 1962-63 he made a second, equally successful, visit. During this time he studied the problem of high-frequency diffraction by a circular disc which resulted in two important papers, Diffraction at high frequencies by a circular disc (1965) and Diffraction of a high-frequency plane electromagnetic wave by a perfectly conducting circular disc (1965).

Queen's College, Dundee, was at this time part of the University of St Andrews. Around 1964 there was a move to found a Department of Applied Mathematics at Queen's College. Norrie Everitt was the Baxter Professor of Mathematics in Dundee and head of the Department of Mathematics. Jones was appointed to the Ivory Chair of Applied Mathematics at Queen's College in 1965 and energetically began the task of building the Department of Applied Mathematics. For the first two years of his time in Dundee, Jones was on the staff of the University of St Andrews but on 1 August 1967 the University of Dundee received its royal charter and became an independent university. Jones remained at Dundee for the rest of his career, holding the Ivory Chair for 27 years until he retired in 1992. He also served for a period as Dean of Science.

A summary of Jones' contributions are given in [14]:-

His deep insight into the theory of electromagnetic waves and his development of new and exceptionally powerful mathematical techniques with which to study them has led to the resolution to problems of both practical and social importance. His work is fundamentally important to the design and performance of radar antennae in which it is necessary to optimise their receiving and transmitting characteristics. Douglas Jones also investigated the ways in which electromagnetic waves interact with objects having sharp edges. These studies are basic to the construction of stealth aircraft whose sharp geometrical shapes are designed to minimise the aircrafts radar signature.
There were other areas to which Jones made substantial contributions. One of these was mathematical biology where Jones had been influenced first by his experience at MIT in 1947-48 and then at Manchester where Alan Turing was working on biological pattern formation. Together with Brian Sleeman, Jones published the textbook Differential equations and mathematical biology in 1983. For information about this book given by the publisher and for extracts from three reviews, see THIS LINK.

We mentioned Alan Turing's influence on Jones in mathematical applications to biology but Turing also gave Jones a deep interest in computers. When asked to address the Inter-University Committee on Computing's Colloquium in 1983 he delivered Future prospects in which he said [9]:-

... when your kind invitation to address you was extended to me, the suggestion was made that I should attempt to assess where we were and peer into the murky bowl of the future to indicate the path we are about to tread. In the present foul political weather this is rather like batting when you can't see the other wicket let alone the bowler and since my only claim to distinction in computing is that I am one of the few people in this room who learned it from Turing, I am none too sure whether it is the game of cricket or tennis which engages us.
Jones wrote the two books Assembly Programming and the 8086 Microprocessor (1988) and 8086 Assembly Programming (1991). For extracts from the Prefaces of these books see THIS LINK.

Brian Sleeman writes in [16] about Jones as his head of department:-

On my arrival I was immediately aware that teaching and scholarship in its widest form were of the highest priority. There was also no pressure on colleagues to write grant proposals but rather to pursue research for its own sake and to make original contributions. Douglas never directed the research of young staff but was always there to give encouragement and offer ideas. ... With regard to teaching back in Dundee, Douglas assigned lecturing duties that on the one hand one would enjoy and on the other he thought would be 'good for the soul'. ... he assigned to me a new course on approximation theory, which was being offered to the first graduate students on the new Numerical Analysis and Programming Masters Course. I knew absolutely nothing about approximation theory and thought that Douglas had made a mistake with the assignment. So, plucking up courage I decided to go and discuss the matter with him. After knocking on his door and waiting for the red light to turn blue, indicating entry, I was ushered in. 'Professor Jones,' I said, 'you have assigned the NAP course on approximation theory to me, but I know nothing about the subject.' His response was firm and short, 'Well you will do when you have given the course.'
Douglas Jones made many other contributions to Mathematical Sciences. He served as chairman of the University Grants Council, and he was a founding member of the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications, serving on the Council and as its President in 1988.

Jones received many honours for his outstanding contributions. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (1967), a fellow of the Royal Society of London (1968), awarded the Keith Prize by the Royal Society of Edinburgh (1971-73), given an Honorary DSc from the University of Strathclyde (1975), awarded the Marconi Prize by the Institute of Electrical Engineers (1975), made an Honorary Fellow of Corpus Christi College Oxford (1980), awarded the Balthasar van der Pol Gold Medal by the International Union of Radio Science (1981), awarded the Naylor Prize and Lectureship of the London Mathematical Society (1986), elected a fellow of the Institution of Electrical Engineers (1989), made a life member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (2013).

Article by: J J O'Connor and E F Robertson


List of References (19 books/articles)

Mathematicians born in the same country

Additional Material in MacTutor

  1. Douglas Jones publications
  2. Reviews of Douglas Jones's books

Other Web sites
  1. MathSciNet Author profile
  2. zbMATH entry

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JOC/EFR January 2019
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School of Mathematics and Statistics
University of St Andrews, Scotland

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