University of Texas at Austin


UT Austin Professor Ranked No. 1 in Applied Mathematics

Published April 22, 2020

Thomas J.R. Hughes has been ranked first in Applied Mathematics, and second in Engineering (all fields) in a worldwide citation survey based on data for 6 million scientists in 22 major fields. Dr. Hughes is Professor of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics at the Cockrell School of Engineering and holds a Peter O’Donnell Chair in Computational and Applied Mathematics at the Oden Institute for Computational Engineering and Sciences.

The rankings, published by the journal PLOS Biology, come from a worldwide citation survey based on data from the abstract and citation database, Scopus. It covers 6 million scientists in 22 major fields and 176 subfields. The survey calculated citations deposited in Mendeley Data between 1996–2018 and ranks and sorts 100,000 scientists by a composite point index.

The index excludes self-citations and is filtered by six different weights that take account of the first, last, or corresponding author, the number of authors per paper, reciprocal citations, etc., to determine quality, value and impact of research output.

In the rankings, Hughes’s primary subfield was identified as Applied Mathematics and secondary subfield was identified as Mechanical Engineering.

Thomas Hughes’s research career spans over four decades and has been highlighted by numerous awards, accolades, and recognitions for his contributions, not just to applied mathematics and engineering, but also in computational medicine and scientific computing.

"Tom Hughes' impact on the field of computational science, engineering and mathematics is staggering," says Oden Institute Director Karen Willcox. "He has been at the forefront of the creation of the discipline of computational mechanics. His contributions not only blaze trails in research, they have also impacted generations of engineers and engineering products."

One honor among his many was being selected to represent the field of Numerical Analysis by delivering a plenary lecture at the International Congress of Mathematicians (ICM 2010) in Hyderabad, India. This congress, held every four years since the 1800s, is the largest and most important in mathematics. “I’ve always tried to write papers with as broad an audience of computationally oriented engineers and mathematicians as possible,” Hughes said. “I want people to understand what I’ve done, so I try to express things in as simple a form as possible, and that includes mathematics.”

Like so many Oden Institute faculty, the breadth of Hughes’s research interests has made him difficult to classify. “I have been told I occupy the space between Applied Mathematics and Engineering, and I think that is a fair characterization, but my main area of research over the years has been Computational Mechanics, which is part mathematics and part engineering,” Hughes said. “In the rankings it seems that Computational Mechanics was identified as part of Applied Mathematics. That’s certainly debatable. In the early years of Computational Mechanics, I would have argued that it is more a part of engineering, but as the subject has progressed I think it has become much more mathematical, so perhaps placing it within Applied Mathematics has some validity. There is no doubt whatsoever that my high ranking within Applied Mathematics is because the study placed Computational Mechanics within Applied Mathematics.”

The archival scholarly journal Computational Methods in Applied Mechanics and Engineering spans the space from mathematics to engineering, but is ranked by Google Scholar as the no. 1 Computational Mathematics journal in the world, despite the large fraction of computational engineering papers published within it. "Many of my most highly cited papers are published in this journal, which probably has a lot to do with my high ranking in Applied Mathematics,” Hughes reflects.

The ranking system considers more than just the number of citations one holds. It also uses additional metrics that account for the quality and value of research output.

“Many of my most highly cited papers are published in this journal [Computational Methods in Applied Mechanics], which probably has a lot to do with my high ranking in Applied Mathematics,” Hughes reflects.

According to the citation study, the highest ranked in Applied Mathematics are Hughes, UCLA’s Stanley Osher in second place, and another longtime Oden Institute faculty member, the now retired Ivo Babuska, in third. The top three in Engineering (all fields) are John Hutchinson of Harvard University in first place, Hughes in second, and Zdeněk Bažant of Northwestern University in third. “I know all these outstanding researchers personally, they are my friends, and I’m humbled to even be mentioned in the same breath with them. One, in particular, that I want to mention is my dear colleague, Ivo Babuška, who recently retired,” Hughes said. “He is a mathematician held in the highest regard by mathematicians, and that is much more meaningful than any ranking produced by a computer program.”