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Renfrey (Ren) Burnard Potts (1925-2005)
Papers 1947-2014

MSS 0216

Biographical Note

Renfrey Burnard Potts, AO, BSc (Hons) (Adel), D Phil (Oxon), DSc (Oxon), FAA, FTSE, FACS, FAustMS

Renfrey Burnard Potts was an Australian applied mathematician.  His early work in statistical mechanics later became influential, the ‘Potts model’ becoming his most cited work.  As Professor of Applied Mathematics at the University of Adelaide for thirty years, he built up an excellent Department of Mathematics and had a major influence on the development of Applied Mathematics in Australia.  He made research contributions in mathematical physics, operations research, difference equations and transportation science (for which he was a joint winner of the Lanchester Prize for Operations Research in 1959).  He was elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science in 1975 and a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering in 1983.  He was interested in computing from the early days of the computing revolution and oversaw the first computer purchases at The University of Adelaide.  In 1991 he was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia after his retirement from the University.

Contents Listing

Series 1: Biographical  (8 cm)

1.1   Curriculum vitae, including list of publications, undated but circa 1999; “Renfrey Burnard Potts 1925-2005” by L.H. Campbell and P.G. Taylor, Historical Records of Australian Science, 2014; draft autobiography with preface by Barbara Potts-Kidman, 2008.

1.2   Papers relating to seminar in honour of Potts, including retirement dinner list, 1990. Copy of draft article “Retirement of Professor R.B. Potts, A.O.” by Ernie Tuck, to be published in AMS Gazette, 1991; “Retirement of Professor Ren Potts”, note by the Mathematical Association of S.A., to be included in Mobius, 1990; numerous letters from Potts’ colleagues (and his subsequent responses) congratulating him on his retirement and the seminar to be held in his honour, 1990.

1.3    Letter to Potts from The Order of Australia Association inviting him to a luncheon in his honour where he will be awarded the A.O.; numerous congratulatory letters from colleagues and from various Senators, 1991; copy of “The Report of the Lancaster Prize Committee”, with attached note indicating this was awarded to Potts for his research whilst based at University of Toronto, 1960; original of The Australian Mathematical Society Gazette, in which Potts is named as the recipient of the 1995 ANZIAM medal; original of The University of Adelaide Faculty of Mathematical and Computer Sciences Newsletter (no. 14, July 1995) in which Potts is celebrated as the ANZIAM medal recipient; variety of official certificates, including 1952 Operations Research Society of America membership, University of Adelaide 1945 Bachelor of Science degree, 1994 Australian Mathematical Society fellowship, 1975 The Institute of Mathematics and its Applications fellowship, University of Adelaide Sports Association life membership 1983, etc.

1.4   2 CD recordings of Potts’ memorial seminar, including talk by Angus Hirst re ‘Potts model’; funeral eulogy by Ernie Tuck (4 pp.); variety of original publications, including The Queen’s College Record in which Potts obituary appears, 2006, The Australian Mathematical Society Gazette in which outstanding results in maths at Adelaide University are recorded, 1991; Leading Edge in which Potts’ retirement is noted (p. 15), 1991.


Series 2: Ph.D. thesis and Potts model material  (7 cm)

Typescript copy of Potts’ 1951 Oxford thesis The mathematical investigation of some cooperative phenomena.  Reprint of Potts 1951 paper "Some generalized order-disorder transformations".  Originals and copies of The Australian Mathematical Society Gazette (1991-1992) in which “The Potts Model” is discussed by Michael N. Barber and S.O. Warnaar; reprint of “The Potts Model” by F.Y. Wu, published in Reviews of Modern Physics, January 1982; photocopy of “Order Parameter of the Chiral Potts Model Succumbs at Last to Exact Solution” by Charles Day, published in Physics Today, November 2005. Also includes two books, Potts Models and Related Problems in Statistical Mechanics by Paul Martin, 1991 and Teach Yourself Typewriting by Pitman’s College,1949 and possibly referred to by Potts in typing his thesis.


Series 3: History of mathematics at The University of Adelaide  (12 cm)

Background material on the early history of mathematics at The University of Adelaide including Potts’ manuscript Mathematics at The University of Adelaide, 1874-1944.  Talks given by Potts on Horace Lamb.  Correspondence related to Horace Lamb research.  Copies of publications by H. Lamb.  Papers on the acquisition of the Horace Lamb ‘rose bowl’ and ‘illuminated parchment’.  Copies of papers on William Henry Bragg by other authors.  Correspondence on the inaccuracies in documentation about W.H. Bragg’s appointment.

Material on the university’s history of mathematics second period, featuring Professors, Harold William Sanders and Robert William Chapman with a separate folder for John Raymond Wilton.  File on history of mathematics in Australia for the Australian Mathematical Society and a paper on Mathematics in the Pacific Basin by Garry J. Tee.


Series 4: Address, seminars, talks  (12 cm)

1974 Graduation ceremony booklet, R.B. Potts presenting.  1976 Quench your mathematical thirst, Lamb’s claret and ale problem.  Potts’ 1978 address to the Operational Research Society of New Zealand.  1984 ICME 5 Plenary lecture.  Mathematics and Robotics, 1986 colloquium.  1989 Commemoration address, (R.B. Potts as Chair of Education Committee).  1989 Mawson High School graduation speech.  Godel, Escher and Bach with Conservatorium, 1990.  1990 University of Wollongong, Graduation ceremony occasional address.  1990 University of Adelaide, Valedictory address.  1991 Mathematics music and human paper.  ‘Mathematics and apples’, 1992 bridging course lecture, Canberra.  1989 Golden jubilee graduation after-dinner talk.  1999 Millennium Bug, ‘Minerva’ talk.  ‘The kink in the Overland Telegraph line’, 2000 talk to Historical Society of SA.  Talks to Wongana Circle, group of prominent men who met monthly and presented papers, 1993-2004.


Series 5: Contributions to journals and magazines  (4 cm)

Copies of the following journals and magazines to which Potts contributed articles:

  • Journal of the Adelaide University Science Association, vol. 1, no. 3, 1947.
  • Hysteresis, Official Journal of the Adelaide University Engineering Society, 1960.
  • Science journal, Prince Alfred College, vol. 19, 1963.  Also a typescript version of the paper.
  • School mathematics journal, the Mathematical Association of SA, vol. 4, no. 2, 1966.
  • Supernova, a publication of the Adelaide University Science Association, 1971.
  • Mathematical medley, Singapore Mathematical Society, vol. 4, no. 2, 1976.
  • Function, a school mathematics magazine by Monash University, vol. 12, pt. 4, 1988.
  • Mobius, journal of the Mathematical Association of SA Inc., vol. 17, no. 3, 1990.
  • Dairy news, The University of Adelaide, vol. 18, no. 36, 1990.


Series 6: Personal correspondence and tributes to colleagues  (6 cm)

University of Adelaide personal correspondence, 1954-1990.

File on Prof Hans Schwerdtfeger.  Copy of R. Radok’s South Australia’s oceanographical prospects.  Memorial service address for Prof Bert Green.  Eulogy for Moxon Simpson (fellow Wongana) by R.B. Potts.  File on maths teacher Keith Hamann.  Files on Prof James Michael, Dr Bill Henderson and Noel Baker.  Ceremony for the late Dr George Sved.  Tribute to Prof Robert Herman by R.B. Potts in the Australian Mathematical Society Gazette.  Rosemary Osman correspondence re her nomination for Australian business women of the year.  Valedictory address by A.T. James.  National University of Singapore, Department of Mathematics, telephone directory, July 1991.  Copy of Thomas Ranken Lyle Medal presentation, award to E.O. Tuck, 1999.


Series 7: Teaching[RF1] materials and lists of mathematics graduates  (5 cm)

Copies of lecture handouts and two class exercises for students, 1968-1987.

Lecture handouts distributed by Potts from Prof Nigel Bean.  Class exercises: Student allocation problem by R.R. Kirby.  Stable marriages by D.G. McVittie and L.B. Wilson.  Also, one untitled lecture summary.

Copies of lists of students who have taken degrees in Mathematics, 1901-1984 (for history).


Series 8: Reprints of papers  (10 cm)


Almost complete set of reprints of papers by R.B. Potts, numbered as in Campbell and Taylor biography


Reprints of papers by R.B. Potts not listed in Campbell and Taylor biography.

Includes 1965 copy of: Elementary matrices by D.S. Mitrinovic where Potts is mentioned in the foreword.


Series 9: Barbara Kidman and Ren Potts' papers on early teaching of Computer Science  (6 cm)

1956: Machine language programs written by Potts for WREDAC, first computer in SA, on paper tape.

1966: Example of early computer programs developed in Computing Centre on Chippewa operating system.  Analysis of Aboriginal music frequencies.  Computational analysis of pollen tetrad patterns in Leschenaultia by B. Kidman.

1970: Application of CONFPAK developed by Computing Centre to deal with data from conference enrolments, B. Kidman.

1971-1975: Early years of Computing IH and BASIC language, B. Kidman.

1971-1977: Reports related to introduction of Computer Science into academic mainstream, B. Kidman

1977(?) Third year programming exercise in compiler writing, B. Kidman.

1981-1987: Documentation for students when interactive computing introduced to Computer/Computing Science.

Robert Franchini
13 September 2016

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