Award-winning mathematician returns to Imperial for a celebration of statistics


Professor Sir David Cox

Professor Sir David Cox, winner of the inaugural International Prize in Statistics, was honoured at a day of talks at Imperial this week.

Professor Cox won the prize in October for a model he conceived while Head of the Department of Mathematics at Imperial in 1972. The Cox model, as it came to be known, explores the relationship between the survival of a patient and several explanatory variables.

There are a lot of people that could have got [the award] but I suppose my friends are more vocal.

– Professor Sir David Cox

For example, it has been used to identify risk factors of coronary artery disease and to analyse treatments for lung cancer, cystic fibrosis, obesity, sleep apnea and septic shock. An application of the Cox model to the mortality effects of particulate air pollution changed both industrial practices and air quality regulations worldwide.

Professor Cox visited Imperial on 7 December 2016 to deliver a lecture on his work and to hear about research in statistics from across the College.

On winning the award, Professor Cox said: “It was a surprise and a pleasure; it means the friends I value have gone to a lot of trouble to argue a case. There are a lot of people that could have got it but I suppose my friends are more vocal.”

He thinks the success of the Cox model had a lot to do with timing: “In stats you try to something that is useful and that people are going to find helpful in their work but it’s highly unpredictable. Some things you think will be really rather good nobody takes any notice.

“But I knew about the need, because four or five friends in different contexts were saying the same thing: ‘We have this kind of data and we don’t really know what we should be doing with it.’ So the motivation was clear and strong. It suggested this was something worth doing.

“There’s a considerable element of chance and luckiness about the time at which things are done.”

For our Masters and Doctoral students, it was a rare and inspiring opportunity to hear from one of the field’s best.

– Professor Niall Adams

Talks were presented by researchers across College who are working to apply statistics to subjects ranging from super-resolution microscopy to cybersecurity. Also in attendance were some of Professor Cox’s former Imperial students, who have gone on to have successful statistics careers of their own.

Speaking of his time at Imperial, Professor Cox said: “I have very fond memories of colleagues and students, several of whom are here today. The thing I think of most is the doctoral students, both as people and scientists from many different countries. It’s also nice to come and see that there’s a lot of strong activity going on in the department today.”

Professor Niall Adams, from Imperial’s Department of Mathematics, who organised the day, said: “It was an excellent day and it was great to have Professor Cox here. In his lecture he spoke to the whole range of expertise in the audience. For our Masters and Doctoral students, it was a rare and inspiring opportunity to hear from one of the field’s best.”


Hayley Dunning

Hayley Dunning
Communications Division

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