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Gap year spent in the army


Sent to Trinity College Cambridge
Michael Atiyah Mathematician
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Manchester Grammar School's a very, sort of, a traditional school – had clear objectives – and although the maths master himself was an Oxford man, he was regarded… the best students were sent to Trinity and the next best students were sent to St John's and there was a kind of clear pecking order. He more or less determined who would apply where and somebody wouldn't be sent to Oxford.

It was quite clear in the school's mind where you send your pupils to maximise their prospects of getting in and so on. So once I suppose I'd been at school for a while it was clear to the maths teacher that I was amongst the abler ones in the class, I was put in the group that were sent into Trinity. Decided for me. I wouldn't have known, you know, at that stage, which… what colleges were what, really. My father might have given a bit of advice, but he wasn't a Cambridge man. He'd heard about Trinity, I suppose, but it was the school that determined them, and the maths master knew his job and he sent his best pupils to Trinity and that was it.

Eminent British mathematician Sir Michael Atiyah (1929-2019) broke new ground in geometry and topology with his proof of the Atiyah-Singer Index Theorem in the 1960s. This proof led to new branches of mathematics being developed, including those needed to understand emerging theories like supergravity and string theory.

Listeners: Nigel Hitchin

Professor Nigel Hitchin, FRS, is the Rouse Ball Professor of Mathematics and Fellow of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, since 1994, and was appointed to the Savilian Professorship of Geometry in October 1997. He was made a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1991 and from 1994 until 1996 was President of the London Mathematical Society.

His research interests are in differential and algebraic geometry and its relationship with the equations of mathematical physics. He is particularly known for his work on instantons, magnetic monopoles, and integrable systems. In addition to numerous articles in academic journals, he has published "Monopoles, Minimal Surfaces and Algebraic Curves" (Presses de l'Universite de Montreal, 1987) and "The Geometry and Dynamics of Magnetic Monopoles" (Princeton University Press, 1988, with Michael Atiyah).

Tags: Manchester Grammar School, Trinity College, Cambridge

Duration: 57 seconds

Date story recorded: March 1997

Date story went live: 24 January 2008