PhD (Math), 1977

Robert Woodrow started his Ph.D. at Simon Fraser University in 1971 having obtained an NSERC 1967 Science Scholarship following his undergraduate honours degree at the University of Calgary. He came to SFU to work with Alistair Lachlan and the strong group of young people at SFU in Mathematical Logic at the time. Then Alistair had students working in areas from the degrees of unsolvability through universal algebra to model theory. Alistair went on sabbatical in his second year of study, and he was able to join him at Cambridge and to participate in the Semester on Logic at the Banach Centre in Warsaw Poland for three months in the winter term. (This was after he had completed preliminary examinations.)

As a research problem they set out to try to show that no complete countable stable theory could have a finite number of countable models (other than 1). Needless to say, that problem wasn’t toppled then, and a candidate counterexample is still being examined in 2015. The thesis "Theories with a finite number of countable models and a small language", was defended in the fall of 1976, and the degree awarded in 1977.

The work for the thesis led them to look at the notion of homogeneous structure, and the classification of the countable (ultra)homogeneous undirected graphs followed in 1980 in a paper with Alistair in Transactions of the American Mathematical Society.

After graduation, faced with a very restricted job market, Robert joined the ranks of young Ph.D.’s moving across the continent for year-long appointments as sabbatical replacements, visiting assistant professors and so on. This led to making many lasting relationships with colleagues at the University of Notre Dame, the University of Saskatchewan and Dalhousie University. In 1980 a position came available at the University of Calgary where he remained.

Robert's research interests have retained a core of model theory of relational structures, but because of the opportunities to interact with colleagues at Calgary, including Eric Milner, Bill Sands and Norbert Sauer, he contributed to research across a number of areas of Discrete Mathematics.

It is heartening to learn that the classification work that Alistair contributed so much to has recently seen renewed interest because of the deep links between countable homogeneous structures with the Ramsey property, and amenable groups in Topolgoical Dynamics, (thanks to the work of Kechris, Pestov and Todorcevic).

He has always felt it important to try to engage young people in mathematics and have been active with mathematics outreach since his arrival in Calgary. Robert has been organizer of the Calgary Junior Mathematics Contest since the early 80’s, and involved with the Provincial contests. He authored the Olympiad Corner and the Skoliad Corner of Crux Math. for more than a decade.

Robert served for some time as member and chair of the Education Committee of the CMS, and is currently a member of the Student Committee and Chair of the Canadian Open Math Competition committee.

Service to one’s department and university is also important. For him this included a long period as Chair of Pure Mathematics in the Department, then to service at the Faculty as Associate Dean (Research) and Vice-Dean and then as Associate Vice-President (Academic) and Deputy Provost. In 2010 Robert stepped down from these roles to return to teaching and scholarship. One’s past doesn’t get away from one, and he finds himself winding down his time at the university by taking on a term as Head of the Department of Mathematics and Statistics.

In 2010 Robert was awarded the Graham Wright Distinguished Service Award of the CMS and the Order of the University of Calgary. He was appointed to the Campus Alberta Quality Council for a term that will end in 2016.

- Written by the Faculty of Science

Published in March 2016

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