From the Mongolian Plains to the ProfessoriateGeneral

Professor Sheng Bau with his family on the occasion of his Inaugural Lecture at UKZN.Professor Sheng Bau with his family on the occasion of his Inaugural Lecture at UKZN.

Newly-inaugurated Professor of Mathematics, Professor Sheng Bau, has travelled a long way both geographically and academically in his illustrious career. 

Born in Inner Mongolia in 1959 as the eldest son of a herdsman, he received a BSc with distinction from the Inner Mongolia University of Nationalities in Tongliao, China, in 1982. Bau then moved to New Zealand to pursue an MSc, which he received with distinction in 1988 from the University of Otago, Dunedin.  Exactly three years later, he was awarded his PhD in Mathematics from the same university.

Bau initially joined the University of KwaZulu-Natal in 1999, and after an academic career that saw him appointed as a Professor no less than four times at other universities, returned to UKZN at the beginning of 2015.

‘Professor Bau’s return to our University is something to celebrate,’ said Dean and Head of the School of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science, Professor Delia North.

Bau’s inaugural lecture focused on problems and results in graph theory and geometry.  ‘A brief look at a few problems and results in graph theory and elementary geometry shows the beauty, simplicity and unity of mathematics,’ said Bau. ‘I will speak in praise of this beautiful and immortal subject, and in praise of the fine society in which our work is conducted.’  

In a highly accessible presentation, Bau reviewed some of the major open problems in graph theory and elementary geometry and reported on progress made on these problems and on closely related topics.  He described mathematics as directly relevant and freshly vibrant – a subject that was accessible, open and always available. “This humble and young subject of pure mathematics has direct, powerful and precise applications in many fields of Science and Technology including modern computer core technology, Information Technology and Genetics,” said Bau.

‘Beauty is the first test. There is no permanent place in the world for ugly mathematics.’ He cited famous English mathematician Hardy. ‘Different views in mathematics can be resolved through peaceful and intelligent discussion.’

Bau’s research areas include graph morphisms, reductions, cycles in graphs, Toeplitz graphs, separability, analytic methods, dimensions and discrete geometry.

Professor Bau is a Fellow of the Institute of Combinatorics and its Applications, and a member of the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM).  He has been a reviewer for the American Mathematical Society Mathematical Reviews since 1999. He is a lifetime member of the Australasian Combinatorial Mathematics Society and was secretary general of the Chinese Combinatorics Society during 2006-2008, and Vice Director of the Chinese Combinatorics Society during 2008-2010.

Professor Bau is referee for a dozen highly ranked mathematics journals including Discrete Mathematics, Networks, Information Processing Letters, SIAM Journal for Discrete Mathematics and the Journal of Graph Theory. He is also on the editorial board of three international journals in mathematics.

Bau ended his lecture by thanking his supervisors, colleagues, collaborators, students and family.

Sally Frost