Professor Noel Frederick Smyth, has died aged sixty four in Edinburgh, Scotland, on the 5th February 2023.
Noel was a Professor of Nonlinear Waves in the School of Mathematics at the University of Edinburgh. His research interests included numerous aspects associated with nonlinear waves, water waves, nonlinear optics and photonics. He had published over 150 math/physics-based journal articles with a significant H-index. His work centered on the use of sophisticated theoretical techniques to develop approximate solutions that describe solitary wave evolution, modulational instability and undular bores (that is, dispersive shock waves), for phenomena involving water waves or optical materials. In recognition of his research achievements, Noel received multiple awards from esteemed organizations such as the American Physical Society (APS) and the Optical Society of America (OSA). He was honored with the distinction of being elected a Fellow of the Australian Mathematical Society (FAustMS) in 2015 and appointed as a Senior Member of the OSA in 2011.
Noel grew up and attended school in Brisbane, Queensland. As a school student, he was awarded several prizes for his excellent scientific performance, including the Dux Prize, which is the highest award an Australian school can bestow on a student each year. According to his high school headmaster, Noel had topped the state of Queensland. In 1979, Noel earned a First-Class Honors Degree in Mathematics and was awarded the University Medal by the University of Queensland. In the following year, he was granted the Special Institute Fellowship (a prestigious scholarship) from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) to pursue a PhD in Applied Mathematics. Under the supervision of Professor G. B. Whitham (FRS), Noel successfully completed his PhD degree in 1984. It is noteworthy to mention that Noel's first encounter with Professor Whitham was during his final year at the University of Queensland, when Professor Whitham was on study leave at that time. Noel was already familiar with Professor Whitham's research work and had already developed an interest in his work, especially his book "Linear and Nonlinear Waves." This prior knowledge allowed Noel to engage in intellectually stimulating conversations with Professor Whitham.
After graduation, Whitham arranged for Noel a post-doctoral position at Caltech to undertake a multidisciplinary project on gas dynamic shock waves in conjunction with the experimental aeronautical group of Professor Bradford Sturtevant (GALCIT, Graduate Aeronautical Laboratory). Noel took great pride in his Caltech education connection, as it set him up for his career. The education he received at Caltech was world-class and broad, and provided him with the skills and knowledge he needed to succeed in his nonlinear dispersive waves field. He was a life member of Caltech Alumni Association. After finishing his post-doctoral position at Caltech, Noel returned to Australia, where he held academic positions at the Universities of Melbourne, New South Wales and Wollongong. Noel was an ardent enthusiast for all things Scottish, and in 1990 he accepted a lectureship in the School of Mathematics at the University of Edinburgh. He remained at the University of Edinburgh, subsequently becoming Senior Lecturer, Reader and finally Full Professor in 2009.
Noel was a passionate and dedicated supervisor and mentor, deeply committed to supporting PhD students and early academic career researchers. His students held him in high esteem, viewing him as the best supervisor they could have ever asked for. They appreciated his caring, patient, supportive, and knowledgeable approach to mentorship. Noel invested considerable time and effort to helping his students develop their research skills, offering guidance and support until they could become independent researchers themselves. His students especially valued his open-door policy, which allowed them to engage in lengthy discussions with him whenever they had questions. Indeed, Noel loved conversing for hours with his students and fostering a warm and supportive environment for their scientific growth and development. His office was a suitable platform for intellectual enrichment.
Noel maintained extensive collaborations with numerous researchers, comprising leading experts, past and present post-doctoral fellows and doctoral students. He was an inspiring “mate” in science as well as an enthusiastic world traveler (and a platinum frequent flyer) and visited colleagues in Australia, Mexico and Italy on a regular basis. Noel organized a series of conferences on nonlinear waves and optics, in inspiring locations including India, Turkey, Spain, Morocco, Mexico, Scotland and Australia.
Noel was a gifted linguist, being fluent in Scottish Gaelic and Spanish, and with knowledge of both German and Italian. He learnt Gaelic before leaving for Scotland, while he acquired the Spanish language during his periodic visits to Mexico City to collaborate with Professor A. A. Minzoni and coworkers at UNAM.
In all respects Noel was an extremely generous and open person. For Noel a “spade” would always be a “spade,” and he believed there was considerable merit in providing his frank and honest assessment of situations. He was certainly not afraid of giving his opinion in a forthright manner, and in a public forum, no matter the sensitivity of the topic. Nevertheless, his colleagues very much appreciated and valued his generous and open disposition, and the present writers were beneficiaries of that kindness, amongst many others.
Noel will be sorely missed in many parts of the world and in the whole community of nonlinear waves, and we extend our deepest condolences to his wife Julie, son Calum and his other family.
Tim Marchant, Professor, Universities of Melbourne and Wollongong
James Hill, Emeritus Professor, Universities of Wollongong and South Australia
Gaetano Assanto, Professor, University of Rome “Roma Tre”
Saleh Baqer, Assistant Professor, University of Kuwait