Professor Tony Spencer: Leading applied mathematician
Thursday 05 June 2008
Tony Spencer was Professor of Theoretical Mechanics at Nottingham University from 1965 to 1994 and a most distinguished applied mathematician. His research interests were unusually wide-ranging and he made outstanding contributions to several branches of solid mechanics. His special interest was in understanding and predicting the mechanical behaviour of advanced materials, an essential adjunct to the effective exploitation of these materials by the aerospace industries and elsewhere.
Spencer was born in Edgbaston, Birmingham and attended Queen Mary's Grammar School, Walsall. He then served in the West Yorkshire Regiment. In 1949 he became a student at Queens' College, Cambridge, graduating in mathematics. He then took up a post as a research assistant in Birmingham University working on the brittle fracture of elastic-plastic materials. In 1955 he married Margaret Bosker, completed his PhD and took up a two-year Fulbright Travel Grant to study at Brown University in the United States, where he worked with Ronald Rivlin.In 1957 he returned to Britain as a Senior Scientific Officer at the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment at Aldermaston.
In 1960, Nottingham University established the Department of Theoretical Mechanics within the Faculty of Applied Science, with the remit to teach mathematics to the engineering students. Spencer joined the department at its inception, and became Head of Department and Professor of Theoretical Mechanics in 1965. For the major part of the next 30 years, he ran an unusually harmonious department, inspiring and encouraging by his own example. He ensured he carried a teaching load as great as any of his colleagues, and was a very efficient and approachable administrator.
The Spencers entertained regularly at home, making all visitors and staff feel most welcome and part of the team. Under his leadership, Nottingham's Theoretical Mechanics group grew and achieved wide recognition for research in the field of solid mechanics. He also gave unstinting service to the university, with extended periods on Senate and other university committees, and also as a member of the mathematics committees of various national bodies.
In October last year Nottingham University established the Spencer Institute of Theoretical and Computational Mechanics, named in his honour. The day before his death Spencer received notification that he had been awarded the medal for 2008 of the Society of Engineering Science.
Tony Spencer was keenly interested in football, a member of the Nottinghamshire County Cricket Club, and followed the fortunes of the Boston Red Sox baseball team. He enjoyed walking and in his younger days was a keen cyclist.
Anthony James Merrill Spencer, mathematician: born Birmingham 23 August 1929; Senior Scientific Officer, UKAEA 1957-60; Lecturer, then Reader, Nottingham University 1960-65, Professor of Theoretical Mechanics 1965-94 (Emeritus); FRS 1987; married 1955 Margaret Bosker (three sons); died Nottingham 26 January 2008.
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