Prof Stephan Wagner from Stellenbosch University is the recipient of the South African Mathematical Society's (SAMS) Award for Research Distinction in 2018.
The SAMS award is only made to an individual in South Africa who has made an important research contribution to Mathematics or the application thereof. It is in the form of a silver Möbius band with a golden rim and appropriate inscription and was presented to him during the annual congress gala dinner on 4 December 2018.
Prof Wagner grew up in Austria and in 2006 he obtained a PhD in Mathematics from Graz University of Technology. In 2007 he joined SU's Department of Mathematical Sciences, where he progressed to full professor in only seven years, in 2014.
He enjoys international recognition for his research in the field of combinatorics and associated fields, with applications in physics, chemistry and computer science. He once referred to this field as “bean counting" since it involves a variety of methods to count things, and determine in how many possible ways things can be combined, and what would be the best possible combination.
His main area of expertise is enumerative and asymptotic combinatorics, where he has become a master in the derivation of explicit formulas, as well as the application of complex analytic methods for their asymptotic behavior.
According to the citation read at the event, Prof Wagner is one of the few discrete mathematicians who is remarkably skilful in handling algebraic, analytic, stochastic, and algorithmic tools: “Over the years, he solved hard conjectures, gave simpler proofs to known results, developed useful algebraic and analytic techniques, and discovered several new phenomena, many of which are surprising and unexpected."
Since 2006 he has published over a hundred articles, with more than 400 citations. He is also strongly involved in mathematical competitions, in particular the South African Mathematics Olympiad. He is an avid chess player, representing Stellenbosch Chess Club and Boland Chess Union.
Prof Ingrid Rewitzky, head of the Department of Mathematics at SU, congratulated Prof Wagner for this “well-deserved national recognition of his outstanding research contributions".
Prof Leon van Wyk, head of the Mathematics Division, also congratulated him with the award, saying that it is “quite an achievement at a very young age". Prof Wagner is only 36 years old.
Previous awardees from SU's Department of Mathematical Sciences include Prof Helmut Prodinger (2003), Prof Barry Green (2007) and Prof Marcel Wild (2010).