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How mathematics can become an obsession


Road trip through America
Michael Atiyah Mathematician
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I had this Commonwealth fellowship which was… one of the conditions of which was you had to spend three months travelling. So in the summer, I mean we bought an old car and we drove right round the United States, spending three months going through Chicago and the mid-west and visiting all the national parks, and California, and then as a bonus we drove down to Mexico where Lefschetz was organising a conference. And he more or less invited me to come along. So we went down to Mexico for a month, came back, so we did a tremendous trip round the United States and got to see large parts of it that way and that was really very interesting and made me contacts in other places which I've followed since. So it was a… but I mean if you go as a young person, America's obviously… is a country for young people. It's not so good for old people, I think.

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: United States, Chicago, California, Mexico, Solomon Lefschetz

Duration: 54 seconds

Date story recorded: March 1997

Date story went live: 24 January 2008