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Bringing America to Cambridge


Taking my wife to America
Michael Atiyah Mathematician
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I'd got married just before we went to America in fact. We'd been… we were sort of engaged the year before in ‘54 when I got my fellowship and then – we went to America in ‘55 – we got married in the summer we went over. Of course these days people… things are done differently. Lily had a… she was actually a year ahead of me, and she actually already had a job at university. She had a job in Bedford College, but in those days you thought nothing of getting married and telling your wife to give up her job and following you over across to America, which these days I think would be regarded as totally impossible. So she did that – came over. It wasn't that easy, I suppose, having had a job, something to do. When we went to Princeton I had my research; she got a kind of part-time job helping Spencer in the maths department, or people in the maths department doing some sort of bibliographic, rather low-level work and she would turn up to a few seminars. But it was rather low-level work and so it wasn't particularly easy for her to adjust to this sort of different role. But anyway… but we had this great tour round America together which was quite a unique opportunity, seeing three, four months travelling round. But I remember also trying to teach her to drive in America; that was not such a success. Teaching your wife to drive is one of the hazards in life, but we were going to do this enormous driving so I thought it necessary to have somebody to help.

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: Bedford College, America, Lily Brown Atayah, Donald Spencer

Duration: 1 minute, 29 seconds

Date story recorded: March 1997

Date story went live: 24 January 2008