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Michael Atiyah Mathematician
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You got a Smith’s Prize here, you're reasonably confident that you're going to succeed and get a fellowship somewhere and you know, reasonable job, so that gave you a kind of longer term horizon on which you could plan things. I think that was a sufficiently defining stage that… then onwards I didn't expect to quit, yes. So I think these prizes, although you get a bit blasé about them for students, are probably very important psychologically for the students concerned. They are a mark of encouragement at a critical stage, and I think that particular stage of the first year is very helpful because you're beginning to do original research, something on your own for the first time.  You've had that kind of attempt, you've got to […] it up, so I think it does serve a very useful purpose, certainly did in my case, yes.

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: Smith's Prize

Duration: 50 seconds

Date story recorded: March 1997

Date story went live: 24 January 2008