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UFS maths guru named the best in the world

Staff Reporter

A professor of applied mathematics at the University of the Free State (UFS)’s Institute for Groundwater Studies, Abdon Atangana, is the best mathematician in the world, according to a list recently published by Stanford University.

Atangana, who has been elected a fellow of The World Academy of Sciences (TWAS), was also listed number 186 in the world in all science fields and number one in Africa in the sciences on the same list.

“The fact that an African name appears on top of the list in mathematics is a clear indication that our small effort and contribution also has an impact internationally,” said Atangana in a written response.

The top mathematican also received his TWAS – Mohammad A. Hamdan Award for Mathematics, 2020 at the beginning of this month.

“In the last three years, I have tried spreading the culture of research in several African countries among Master’s and PhD students so they can be more active in research.

“And as editor of some top tier journals, I have also helped promote research from African countries, in fact in some journals researchers from Africa were able to publish their research papers due to my presence,” he explained.

The countries he has been working with include South Africa, Ghana, Ethiopia, Namibia, Lesotho, Benin, Congo, Senegal, Nigeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, and Egypt.

But despite the glowing accolades, Atangana is disappointed that African mathematicians or academics in general, receive very little support from their governments or other authorities.

“The main reason those from outside Africa overlook our continent is that their ancestors have prepared the way for them.

“Cambridge University for example, is well respected because of the foundation laid down by Newton and others,” said Atangana referring to Isaac Newton, an English mathematician, physicist, astronomer, theologian, and author.

Newton is widely recognised as one of the greatest mathematicians, physicists and most influential scientists of all time.

Atangana said African researchers face serious discrimination with some even failing to have their work published in some journals because their research outcomes are not accepted.

“I will continue helping younger researchers from Africa… which has been divided by colonial powers, making it very difficult for an Africa student and an academician to move from one place to another on the continent as it is required of him to provide visa.

“The more we are divided the more we are weak and the more it become harder for an African student to get knowledge and for an African academician to spread knowledge across Africa, which is in contrary to a European student,” he pointed out.

The maths guru said some students were discouraged due to lack of support and recognition, adding even asked him about the point in getting a PhD and yet earn less than a musician and sportsperson.

Atangana is known for his research to develop a new fractional operator, the Atangana-Baleanu operator, which is to model real-world problems.

“With this operator, he not only describes the rate at which something will change, but also account for disrupting factors that will help to produce better projections,” said the UFS in a recent statement.

Among others, his models can advise people drilling for water by predicting how groundwater is flowing in a complex geological formation.

Furthermore, his work can also be applied to predict the spread of infectious diseases among people in a settlement, forecasting the number of people who will be infected each day, the number of people who will recover, and the number of people who will die. 

“Besides promoting science in the developing world . . . Atangana’s work also contributes to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals – the global goals as set in 2015 that call for ending poverty, protecting the planet and ensuring that all people enjoy prosperity and peace,” the UFS statement added.

He is the second South African researcher to be elected TWAS fellow in the field of mathematics and the sixth African mathematician.

The first person to be elected was Professor Reddy Batmanathan Dayanand in 2003.

Last year, Atangana was named among the top one percent of scientists on the global Clarivate Web of Science list.

Less than 6 200 or just 0.1 percent of the world’s researchers were included on that list, with no more than 10 of the scientists coming from South Africa. 

TWAS president Professor Mohamed HA Hassan congratulated Atangana on the prestigious achievement.

“Your election as fellow is a clear recognition of your outstanding contribution to science and its promotion in the developing world. We will be honoured to have you among our members,” said Hassan.

TWAS, described as the voice for science in the south, is working towards the advancement of science in developing countries and supports sustainable prosperity through research, education, policy, and diplomacy. 

Candidates elected as TWAS fellows are scientists whose contributions to their respective fields of science meet internationally accepted standards of excellence, and they must have distinguished themselves in efforts to promote science in developing countries. 

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