Vera studied mathematics in Barcelona (Spain), and in 1982 she received her Master’s Degree. I met Vera for the first time in 1981 when she attended our annual course on “Mathematical Methods and Models in Geology” at Freie Universität Berlin, and a year later she joined our working group. There developed an increasing demand for her advice on all kinds of mathematical and statistical problems in geology, so she became involved in various research projects supported by the German Research Foundation (DFG) and exploration companies.

As a research scientist Vera did not need to teach – it was her own interest to explain the mathematical and statistical foundation of methods applied for solving complex geological problems. During this period she started to transform research ideas and results into student course material on multivariate statistics, geostatistics and selected topics: hand-outs, scripts, exercises. It was this close connection between research and teaching that made mathematical geology an attractive branch of study not only at our department in Berlin – students from German-speaking countries attended the annual courses and Vera was their preferred advisor. She remained a distinguished guest teacher in our working group even when she returned to Spain.

During her stay in Berlin, Vera started working on her PhD. It was her original idea to combine Aitchison’s approach to the analysis of compositional data with geostatistical methods in spatial data analysis. In one of her first publications she analyzed the problem of spurious spatial correlation between variables of constant sum. In 1985 she spent three months at Aitchison’s Department of Statistics at The University of Hong Kong and in 1986 she received her PhD from Freie Universität Berlin (supervisor Prof. W. Skala). During the oral defense of her thesis one of our colleagues asked Vera whether she felt more like a mathematician or like a geologist. I don’t remember Vera’s answer, but the question itself demonstrates that she is a distinguished member of both scientific communities. Vera’s profession is mathematics, and geoscience is still her passion.

Back in Spain – first as Profesora Visitante, then Profesora Titular at the Institute for Applied Mathematics (Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya) – Vera gave lectures on mathematics, statistics and geostatistics and established a network of scientists around the world who are interested in compositional data analysis.  In 2000 Vera Pawlowsky was appointed to a full professorship at the University of Girona where she built up a powerful group of young scientists who are working on diverse problems in compositional data analysis and are involved in various international joint research projects. She encourages her students to publish their work as soon as possible, and many of their papers are co-authored with her. The group members share various administrative and organizational tasks (e.g. maintenance of the website, development of the CoDaPack software, preparation of workshops etc.); this takes some weight off her shoulders, but her influence remains enormous.

During the past decade Vera and her co-authors (in particular, her life partner, J. J. Egozcue) have made significant progress in multivariate statistics and geostatistics of compositional data based on innovative ideas on appropriate sample space, suitable distance measures and new tools for visualization. These methods can be used not only for data analysis but also for modeling compositional trends in rocks when geological processes are acting on them (e.g. sedimentary transport, diagenesis, meta­mor­phism).

Because of Vera’s ability to communicate mathematical concepts to an audience of geoscientists and other fields of science and her ability to give lectures and courses in German, Spanish, Catalan and English she was named IAMG Distinguished Lecturer in 2007. She used this opportunity to teach and promote compositional data analysis at 13 mathematical and geoscientific departments all around the globe.  

Vera is thoroughly convinced that scientific conferences must be complemented by short courses and workshops that are attractive for colleagues and students alike. The Girona Group is maintaining a fascinating process of international scientific cooperation, exchange of ideas, working meetings and discussion forums addressing compositional data analysis. The organization of a series of workshops entitled CoDaWork (2003, 2005 and 2008) should also be mentioned here because these meetings, held in a friendly, stimulating atmosphere, demonstrate that Girona is the center of compositional data analysis. 

Vera’s passion for teaching has led to a new initiative: the European Masters in Mathematical Geosciences. The goal of this project is to build a curriculum primarily for geoscientists aimed at enhancing their mathematical, statistical and computational skills. Six partner organizations in Spain, Italy, Germany, UK and France, all with a long tradition and expertise in these topics, will participate, and the first hurdle on the way to a joint European Masters Degree has been taken.  

I do not know how Vera manages this immense scientific output along with her administrative duties and her teaching activities. She has received numerous awards which can make her proud, but I believe that the John Cedric Griffiths Teaching Award for 2008 has made her happy.

Heinz H. Burger

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