Dr William ‘Bill’ Whiten

Mathematician and mineralogist




This biography was written by:Ken Bye

The Foundation recently received news of the passing of one of Linwood College’s most academically distinguished alumni, Dr William ‘ Bill Whiten. Despite his international reputation in the important but rather controversial field of mining and minerology, Dr Whiting’s achievements remained unknown to the school and, it would appear, to most people in New Zealand.

Dr Whiten attended Linwood High School from 1956 to 1960.  He was an outstanding mathematician and scientist and was dux in 1960. Whiten was also awarded a national Junior Scholarship, the first such award for a Linwood student. This recognised Whiten as one of the top secondary school scholars in New Zealand that year.

Whiten completed a mathematics degree at the University of Canterbury in 1963, and, with an eye to the future, learnt computer programming as an adjunct to the course. He then moved to the University of Queensland, working as a computer programmer. In 1966 Whiten joined what is now the University’s Julius Kruttschnitt Mineral Research Centre [JKMRC ] as a research assistant while studying for his Ph.D part time. His thesis, submitted in 1972, on ‘ Simulation and Model Building for Mineral Processing ‘ became a seminal work in this specialised field, leading to a standard model for industrial crushers and a systematic approach to model building which laid the basis for on going development in the industry.

Dr Whiten published over 100 technical papers on a wide range of topics, including process simulation, regression techniques, model building and clustering techniques, working closely with other specialists throughout the world to improve both the processes and the equipment used in the industry. Whiten was particularly passionate about the use of modelling. An approach he helped pioneer became known as ‘ grey box ‘ modelling, which combines a theory with experimental data to complete the model, thereby taking advantage of all available information.

According to Dr Barry Wills, Editor in Chief of Minerals Engineering, ‘ Bill [ Whiten ] was indispensable to the JKMRC . . . with his ability to apply rigorous mathematics to the models, the software skills to develop general purpose simulation packages and a rare ability to devise simple experiments which led to new process understanding. ‘

Dr Whiten’s passion for his subject, and his ability to establish a supportive, professional relationship with his students made him a popular and highly valued faculty member. As Dr Brian Easton, a fellow student at Canterbury University in the early 1960s noted in contacting the school, perhaps this ability to relate to a diverse range of people was a personal quality refined during his time at Linwood.

Dr Whiten clearly had a major impact on an industry that, although controversial, remains important to Australia’s prosperity and to the functioning of the modern world.  It is a pleasure to be able to claim, albeit belatedly, Dr Whiten as one of Linwood’s distinguished alumni.

Sources:   MEI Blog, Dr Barry Wills, JKMRC Research Centre, Dr Brian Easton