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thomas wagenknecht

Thomas Wagenknecht, Dipl.-Math., PhD

As many colleagues will know, Dr Thomas Wagenknecht, Lecturer in the School of Mathematics, died suddenly earlier this month.

Thomas, who was born in 1974 in Kharkiv (Ukraine), read Mathematics at the Technical University of Ilmenau, in Germany.  Having graduated with distinction in 1999, he remained at Ilmenau for his doctoral studies, culminating in the presentation of a thesis on ‘Homoclinic Bifurcations in Reversible Systems’.  He was awarded his doctorate magna cum laude at the end of 2003.  During the course of his studies, Thomas showed himself to have a very promising future in mathematical research, with a particular interest in both the theoretical and applied aspects of dynamical systems theory, and considerable expertise in the use of analytical, geometric and numerical techniques to analyse dynamical bifurcation problems.  His thesis contained a number of original and innovative results, which were published in leading journals.

Following the award of his doctorate, Thomas came to this country at the beginning of 2004 to take up a post-doctoral research position in dynamics and numerical analysis in the Bristol Laboratory for Advanced Dynamics Engineering (BLADE), at the University of Bristol.  (On his own initiative, he had previously spent six months at Bristol whilst reading for his doctorate, engaged on a problem similar in nature to the work for his doctorate; the results of this work, undertaken in collaboration with Professor A R Champneys, were published in Physica D.)  At BLADE, Thomas was heavily involved in a joint project between the Departments of Engineering Mathematics and Civil and Aerospace Engineering.  Working on the applications of pseudospectra in engineering, he had first to acquaint himself with a whole new area of mathematics – advanced linear algebra – as well as the specialised terminology and notations of structural engineering.  Thomas surmounted this challenge with conspicuous ease; his participation in the project proved an outstanding success and resulted in several major papers.  In parallel with this activity, Thomas maintained his interest in homoclinic bifurcations, collaborating closely with a visiting Japanese scholar.

In January 2006, Thomas moved to the University of Manchester, on his appointment as Research Associate, working on bifurcations of periodic orbits in reversible systems.   The theoretical work he carried out reflected his considerable ability both to perform numerical simulations with great skill and to undertake technically demanding theoretical calculations.  He achieved significant advances, particularly in higher dimensional differential equations.

Thomas came to Leeds, as a Lecturer in the School of Mathematics, in October 2007.  From the outset, he settled successfully and harmoniously into his new environment.  Centred on the application of dynamical systems and bifurcation theory to problems in physics and engineering, his research continued to flourish within the stimulating atmosphere of the School’s Applied Nonlinear Dynamics research group.  Over the course of his sadly brief career, Thomas had papers published in many leading journals, including the Journal of Computational and Applied Mathematics, Chaos, Europhysics Letters, Nonlinearity, Dynamical Systems, and the International Journal for Numerical Methods in Engineering. 

Thomas was central to the life of his research group, Applied Nonlinear Dynamics. In recent years, he made a promising start in a new area: dynamics on complex networks, bringing others along with him with his infectious enthusiasm. He supervised two PhD students, and he initiated a new successful seminar series within the School. He himself was a lucid and penetrating speaker at seminars and scientific meetings.  Enviably bilingual, enthusiastic, open-minded and a generous collaborator, Thomas was ideally suited to the needs of interdisciplinary and inter-institutional research.  His excellence as a communicator and his readiness to spend time carefully elucidating mathematical concepts, his ready wit and his availability, also made him very popular with his students.  He was a highly valued and respected colleague, always willing to help. His many friends both in and outside the School enjoyed, among his many other qualities, his sense of humour and his affection for British culture and idiom.

Thomas is survived by his parents.

An informal memorial event was held on campus earlier this month and a funeral service will be held be in Stendal, Gemany in June.  Details are available from the School of Mathematics.