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* interview to John Ball (Surrey, 1948) “The development of a researcher’s talent may be hindered by the failure to find the right problems” One of the first things that come to mind when one hears the name John Ball is certainly Mathematics. It is easy to find references to his achievements as a researcher. Along the following lines we shall have the opportunity to know his point of view on the current challenges of science. John M. Ball, Sedleian Professor of Natural Philosophy at Oxford University (UK) (Interviewer Urkiri Salaberria) I’d like to start with your academic career… (Sir John M. Ball): Okay. I graduated in Mathematics from St John’s College, Cambridge, where my father and brother went. At that time I was sure that what I really wanted to do was research. That’s when I was offered the chance of doing a year’s course in Oxford on Algebra. But this would have meant doing more exams, and so I said no. So I decided to go to Sussex, where a former school teacher of mine was a lecturer in the Applied Sciences department.Thus I did my thesis in Mechanical Engineering, though in fact in the end my thesis supervisor was David Edmunds in Mathematics, a change that was made possible through the help of a fellow student. Another key piece of help was that of one of my now great friends, Robin Knops, who in the end offered me my first job at Heriot-Watt University, who when hearing that I did not have a research project introduced me to Stuart Antman at a conference. Stu suggested I read an article by Wayne Dickey and that I should apply to it the methods in the book by Jacques-Louis Lions, which apart from being in French certainly wasn’t easy. For me, at the age of 22, that moment was a real revelation, because I understood what it meant to be a researcher and where the difficulty of problems lay. Although I have to say I struggled over the footnotes in Lions book! After my thesis I spent 6 months at Brown University. Then I returned to Great Britain and spent the next 23 years working at Heriot-Watt University. 28 * Urkiri Salabarria is a basque science journalist

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