Department of Mathematics


Professor John McNamara

Professor John McNamara

John McNamara is made Doctor of Science for his contribution to mathematics (Wednesday afternoon, 18 July 2012).

His undergraduate degree was in mathematics at Oxford, followed by an MSc in Astronomy at Sussex. He then returned to Oxford for his PhD in Astrophysics, originally under the supervision of Dr Dennis Schiama and then under Professor Roger Penrose, working on the stability properties of standard black hole models.

After his PhD, John moved back to Sussex as a postdoctoral fellow under the supervision of Professor John Bather. His work here was in the area of probability theory and decision-making – a change of field within mathematics.

During his PhD study John had become interested in evolutionary biology. He began working with Alasdair Houston on the application of mathematics to decision-making in animals.

The work on animal behaviour continued after John moved to Bristol as a lecturer. His major research theme was to understand models that predict behaviour from simple biological basics. The models are biology driven, although en route to address a biological issue he often comes up with novel mathematical solutions.

John is currently Professor of Mathematics and Biology at Bristol University and Director of the University’s research centre in Behavioural Biology.

John is now regarded as one of the main architects of what is commonly known as theoretical behavioural/evolutionary biology. He is a leading theoretician in various fields including evolutionary game theory, and a co-founder and major proponent of animals’ decision-making in a state-dependent context.

John’s study paradigms, such as the dawn chorus in birds, overwinter survival strategies and, more recently, annual routines of behaviour, provided novel insights into animal behaviour and stimulated a wide range of empirical research.

John’s scientific contributions have been recognised by  various awards. He has been a distinguished Visiting Professor and Fellow, and in 2008 the International Society for Behavioral Ecology awarded him the Hamilton Award, jointly with Alasdair Houston. In 2012 he was elected a Fellow of Royal Society for his contribution to biology.

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Last updated: Monday, 16 July 2012