Thursday, 10 September 2020

Bill Whiten 1942-2020

Sad news from Australia of the death of Dr. Bill Whiten of the Julius Kruttschnitt Mineral Research Centre (JKMRC). Bill Whiten was indispensable to the JKMRC, the Alban Lynch - Bill Whiten partnership putting the JKMRC on the map and sustaining it for over 20 years. Bill and Alban complemented each other—Lynch, with his new concept for research, early grinding and cyclone modelling, and ability to engage with the industry, and Bill 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 (In Conversation with Alban Lynch). Just like Lynch, Whiten had a fierce work ethic and commitment to see the JKMRC succeed.

Some would argue, including countless students, that Bill’s greatest contribution was in his supervision and support of students for over 50 years. He never really retired from the centre and continued to mentor students as the 50th anniversary approached. A man of relatively few words, Bill Whiten had the habit of summing up a situation succinctly. He was the first port of call when people ran into inevitable maths and programming problems and a source of new ideas in research which spanned processing and mining, data analysis and new mathematical techniques.

The longest lasting JKMRC tradition is the Friday morning seminar. Whiten introduced seminars when the first new building was constructed in 1970. The seminar program has never faltered and Bill continued to attend if the topic was of interest to him.

Bill Whiten completed a Mathematics degree in 1963 at the University of Canterbury (NZ) and learnt computer programming as a side line to the set course. He then worked as a computer programmer in the University of Queensland’s Computer Centre. At the beginning of 1966 he joined what is now the JKMRC as a research assistant and completed a PhD in 1972 on ‘Simulation and Model Building for Mineral Processing’ after studying part time. This thesis among other things developed the now standard model of industrial crushers, and a systematic approach to model building that has become the basis for continuing work in improving and automating model building.

Bill published over 100 technical papers on a wide range of topics including process simulation, regression techniques, model building, and clustering techniques. He worked extensively in the development and application of specific process models for mineral processing applications. He supervised 18 PhD degrees and 9 Masters degrees related to mineral processing and model construction and assisted many more higher degree students at JKMRC.

Bill worked extensively with models of crushing and grinding equipment having developed theoretical relations that govern these models. His work with S.S. Narayanan determined the essential one parameter nature of the size distribution resulting from the breakage of individual brittle rock particles. The breakage tests resulting from this work are now a standard procedure in the design of comminution equipment. It has been shown in conjunction with Narayanan how the breakage tests can be used in the design of ball mills, with S.E. Awachie for the design of crushers, and with C. Leung for the design of autogenous mills. The application of this work is a major part of the operations of the JKMRC consulting division JKTech. The University of Utah has based their work on comminution partly on these methods.

A particular interest was making model building more efficient and effective. The particular case of interest is now known as ‘grey box’ modelling where some theory is known and experimental data is used to complete the model thus taking advantage of all the available information. This has a great many applications ranging from basically empirical modelling to validating models developed entirely from theory. This work started with the specification of model building steps and was automated in conjunction with T. Kojovic

Bill was an active participant in the annual Australian Mathematics in Industry Study Group (MISG) and he also spent three years as an active member of the academic board of the University of Queensland. In 1993 he shared the Australian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy "Mineral Industry Operating Techniques Award" for development of the JKSimMet Metallurgical Simulation System. The citation reads ‘In recognition of the development of the JKSimMet metallurgical simulator system at the Julius Kruttschnitt Mineral Research Centre in the University of Queensland which has achieved worldwide acclaim and commercial acceptance’. In 2019 he was awarded a AUSIMM Professional Excellence Award.

Steve Morrell, Chris Bailey, Rob Morrison, Bill Whiten and Dave Wiseman,
the team which won an AusIMM Award in 1993 for the development of JKSimMet

Bill had battled with leukemia for two years, and passed away three days ago. Our thought are very much with his wife Agnes.


  1. Such a shocking news--I joined Dr. Lynch in 1961 and latter,Bill was picked up by Dr. Lynch from mathematics Dept -- what Dr. Lynch told and what Bill inferred to make him to decide to join J.K. in those formative years, says so much on "spotting and attracting talent". I developed such close association from then on; he was just a geneous--he fitted that equation for my reduced efficiency curve in flat five minutes. His contribution, directly and indirectly by his help to many research scholars was immense.
    He is full of energy, humble and so dedicated to J.K.--I am sure he will be remembered as a part and parcel of J.K.
    I must have visited J.K. five or six times, after I left J.K.--Bill and his wife Agnus always there to make my visits very pleasant--may be that "early gang of Dr. Lynch (as Don puts it) developed so much bonding amongst themselves and enjoyed the success of each other and J.K.
    Bill,a mathematician, who never saw a mineral engineering unit or its operation before joining J.K. made such lasting contributions to our profession .

    Great loss to profession and all his colleagues, particularly to me.

  2. Thanks for the post. Bill was my thesis advisor, and I had about 20 years having the office next door. We remained good friends for many year afterwards and jointly advised postgraduates together and worked on projects together.

    To sum Bill up... extremely honest, full of both academic and personal wisdom. A man who would reach out to young academics and whatever the cost help them as much as he could.

    Bill was an introverted-extrovert. He loved going to MISG and giving seminars. But when it came to going out to restaurants he would be happy to have a 'slice of bread' at the Hotel. I had many good times with Bill - and our entire family is sad at his departure.

    A great friend.

  3. My mentor in modelling and indeed a Mathematics genius. MHSRIEP.
    John Peter Mutambo, Zambia

  4. All at the JKMRC and the wider JK family are mourning the loss of Professor Bill Whiten, who contributed so much to the success of the JKMRC at the University of Queensland for nearly 60 years. The JKMRC has been a pioneer in the development of mineral processing simulation and mass balancing software, and mineral process control, under the early leadership of Professor Alban Lynch. These methodologies are now widely used around the world and have become an industry standard. Bill Whiten played an absolutely key role in all these developments. He was a mathematician by training and his sophisticated but practical approach to the problem of modelling mineral processes hit on principles and approaches that have been followed by others to this day.

    His novel approaches to population balance modelling of comminution processes allowed these complicated systems to be successfully modelled. A key contribution was Bill’s deep understanding of the mathematics of parameter estimation – the fitting of the models to data and the quantification of the uncertainties in the estimated parameters. He established rigorous procedures for non-linear parameter estimation together with the necessary software, without which the general modelling methodology is unlikely to have proceeded as effectively if at all. His models and parameter estimation engine are still embedded in the comminution and classification simulator ‘JKSimMet’ which remains the premier modelling and simulation tool to-day.

    An important associated development was his discovery that the size distributions of broken ores tended to be self-similar, which allowed Bill and his students to develop simple laboratory breakage devices (initially a pendulum which evolved into the current drop-weight tester) to measure the important relationship between specific input energy and product size. The t10-Ecs family of self-similar size distribution curves, and their mathematical realisation, allowed the breakage characteristics of the ore to be represented in a form needed by the comminution models. This in turn permitted the effects of the ore and the machine to be explicitly separated in the model. These principles continue to be the basis of comminution and other process modelling.

    A related development was the use of sound mathematical principles to conduct rigorous mass balancing of mineral processes using redundant data, including multi-dimensional mass balancing. Bill provided not just the theoretical development but the software to achieve the required outcome.

    Bill was an important part of the team that built the latest versions of the flotation simulator, JKSimFloat, which again has received wide acceptance in the industry, and his mathematical skills contributed to the development of practical control systems which were robust and delivered measureable benefits to the operations concerned.

    His devotion to the numerous graduate students whom he either supervised directly or advised in the course of their graduate work was complete and his influence on them profound. Many of them are now in senior influential roles in the industry, in Australia and in other parts of the world.

    I count it a privilege to have worked in the same organisation as Bill for over 30 years, and I learned much from him. Perhaps the greatest lesson was that a practical solution was more important than an elegant or theoretical solution, even though Bill was more than capable of producing all three.

    He bore his illness with great fortitude and his unique self-effacing humour, and he continued working and publishing papers to the end. Apparently his doctor enjoyed dealing with him because he always arrived at appointments with graphs and tables charting the progression of his condition.

    It is difficult to overestimate his contribution to our profession, which will miss him greatly. But his legacy of high intellectual achievement and the students whom he trained will live on.

    Tim Napier-Munn

  5. RIP. Had many insightful and also fun discussions with him!
    Kari Heiskanen, Aalto University, Finland

  6. Just heard the sad news of Bill Whiten’s passing and want to share some thoughts that go back over 50 years. I was a summer student at Mount Isa Mines in ’68 and one of my jobs was to carry sample buckets for a PhD candidate, Don McKee from the JK. Naturally we chatted and Don suggested I visit the JK on my way back to the UK. Hopping down the Queensland coast by car, rail and plane I did get to Brisbane to take up the invitation. It was Bill who met me and showed me around. He was obviously passionate about mineral processing, I think a vibratory ball mill was his current focus, and we spent the best part of an afternoon discussing various topics. That started a link with the JK that has remained. I wrote asking for the notes of one of the JK short courses and a volume was sent, an introduction to modeling using matrices. I spent two sabbaticals at the JK, the last in 2010. It was a common finish to the day for Bill to wander over to ‘my office’ and chat again about mutual interests. I mentioned that I could not seem to derive the JK flotation model and next day he presented me with a solution. He was a kind and encouraging man, sometimes appearing lost but of course he never was. I am grateful for the occasions we could meet and exchange ideas; he was one the giants at the JK and thus in the world of mineral processing.
    Jim Finch, McGill University, Canada

  7. I was very sad with the news. Yet another loss in these very challenging times we are living in...
    I met Bill back in 1993, while I was a PhD student at the University of Utah and learned to appreciate his humble ways, at the same time as his sharpness of mind. During my visits to the JKMRC over the last 12 years or so as part of AMIRA P9, he made a point to touch base with me nearly every time, with very insightful views of the present and future directions of modeling mills and crushers. He enjoyed seeing how my group embraced some of his ideas in our novel approaches to modeling.
    I announced his passing to my students during a class I was teaching exactly about his crusher model, well recalled in Barry´s overview. No need to say that I had to regroup myself after making this announcement and going forward to present his elegant matrix-based solution to simulating compressive crushers.
    I hope his great contributions continue to inspire the next generation of modelers, since it will not be easy to fill the "big shoes" he leaves behind - a man ahead of his time.
    Luís Marcelo Tavares, UFRJ, Brazil

  8. This is very sad news at the loss of a friend. Bill and I had semi-regular lunch catch-ups after I left JKTech, and though I was aware of his condition he seemed to be holding his own until recently.

    Bill was always available and a ready source of knowledge for the Software Team regarding implementation and testing of the models in JK Simulators - and their limitations! He is sorely missed. Sincere condolences to his family.


If you have difficulty posting a comment, please email the comment to and I will submit on your behalf