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Maths of Planet Earth | Limitless Applications

A coffee with... Aaron_Thornton

Published on January 3rd, 2013 | by Simi


Aaron Thornton

Position: Research Mathematician, CSIRO.

How do you introduce yourself at parties?

What area of mathematics and why?
Applied maths! Something useful, practical and contributes to real global problems. I work in clean energy, doing the calculations and predictions for optimal energy alternatives.

Do you think that mathematicians deserve the “geek” tag?
In most cases. Mathematics does attract unusual individuals that like equations. I guess that sounds geeky.

What has maths done for you lately?
Apart from checking my phone bill, I see maths a language tool that translates and explains physical observations. For example in my field I have been able to explain the relationship between temperature, pressure and volume in hydrogen-fuel tanks, a promising alternative to petrol in the future.

Do you have a favourite application or theory of maths?
I love the work of Sir Leonard-Jones, a mathematician, who developed this beautiful equation that describes the attractive and repulsive forces between atoms, the building blocks for the universe.


 2012 Tall Poppy Science Award

Aaron was a 2012 Tall Poppy Science Award recipient for his research.

Imagine a room filled with bouncy balls that never stop bouncing. That’s how gas molecules behave, but they are a million times smaller and travel a million times faster. To blow your mind further, about one million trillion gas molecules hit your face per second. Can you feel them?

These small molecules travel our earth in the realm of nanospace, invisible to the eye, but critical to our lives. They include oxygen, water, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide, to name a few. The balance between them in our environment is very important. Sometimes humans create waste and pollute the planet by mixing harmful molecules with our air and water, or they contribute to an imbalance in the mixture.
The goal of Dr. Thornton’s research is to be able to clean the mixtures and manage the life cycles of these important molecules.

Dr. Thornton has needed to build a virtual environment to mimic the behavior of these small molecules and to discover new ways for separating and transporting them. Recently he has discovered some magic crystals with tiny holes in them that efficiently separate molecules. Currently there are chemists growing these crystals in the lab so they can be used to clean the air and water.

Aaron is actively involved with the Mathematicians in Schools Program. He is also co-authoring an assignment titled Sustainable Household Mathematics. With some further testing this will be used as a tutorial in classrooms and if successful will be launched nationally. Aaron organised the first early Career Researcher Symposium for the Membrane Society of Australasia including posters, brochures, website and public press release. He is passionate about using the internet to share and educate. Recently he built a website for the Membrane Society of Australasia, to explain membrane science and share results with the community.[subscribe2]

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One Response to Aaron Thornton

  1. Anna says:

    Dear Aaron – I’d love to meet you at a party. Clearly, I go to the wrong parties.


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