Alphose Zingoni, Professor of Structural Engineering & Mechanics in the Department of Civil Engineering at the University of Cape Town, was invited by the Royal Society of the UK in February last year, to present his work on symmetry and applications of group theory in structural mechanics, at one of the themed meetings of the Royal Society, held at the Kavli Royal Society International Centre at Chicheley Hall in Buckinghamshire. The only civil engineer among a distinguished group of mathematicians, physicists, chemists and engineers, and the only speaker from Africa, Zingoni explained how the mathematical concepts of group theory, exploited for many years by physicists and chemists to study problems in crystallography, quantum mechanics and molecular symmetry, could also be successfully applied in engineering.

According to Zingoni, not only can group-theoretic formulations vastly reduce computational effort (an important consideration in large-scale engineering problems), but they can also allow us to gain valuable insights on complex phenomena in engineering mechanics, such as bifurcation, stability, vibration and non-linear dynamics. Such insights greatly enhance our capacity to predict unfavourable or catastrophic behaviour in engineering systems, making it possible to design these systems more safely and more effectively. The written version of Zingoni’s lecture has recently been published as a research paper in the prestigious Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, which was founded in 1662, and is the oldest scientific journal in the world. Only scientific papers of the highest quality are accepted for publication in this journal.

Professor Zingoni, who holds a PhD from Imperial College London, is completing a book on vibration analysis, which features some of his work on group theory, and will be published later this year by Taylor & Francis (London). Besides group-theoretic studies in engineering mechanics, he also has an interest in shells. His seminal book on shell structures was published by Thomas Telford (Institution of Civil Engineers) in 1997, and a second edition is in the pipeline. He has published more than 100 papers in peer-reviewed international journals, and sits on the editorial boards of several international journals. He is also the founder of the Structural Engineering, Mechanics & Computation (SEMC) series of international conferences, held in Cape Town every three years, and now regarded as one of the leading structural conferences in the world. For his outstanding contributions to the advancement of structural engineering, he was elected a Fellow of the Institution of Structural Engineers (London) in 2005, a Fellow of the South African Academy of Engineering in 2008, and a Fellow of the International Association for Bridge and Structural Engineering (Zurich) in 2011.

This is a prestigious accomplishment and momentous moment for the civil engineering profession, for South Africa and Africa at large.

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