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Academics at Manchester Grammar School


Preparing for Cambridge
Michael Atiyah Mathematician
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When it was clear I was going to be mathematical that was the intention. Although my father had been Oxford – the rest of the family had been to Oxford – so I think they anticipated my going to Cambridge.  And so when I finished school in Egypt – or Alexandria, it was the last year – I was 16 and so the question was how to prepare me to come to Cambridge. So when we came over here in 1945, my father asked what was the best school for mathematics in the country, and they said Manchester Grammar School. So I went to Manchester Grammar School just for the two years to prepare to get into Cambridge. So I think they'd always anticipated that that's what I should be doing, even if I didn't anticipate it, and they gave me a good preparation. MGS was a good school and I had two years there, which certainly was as good a preparation to coming to Cambridge as you could get.

[Q] You were boarding then in Manchester?

No, I lived in digs. We had some friends in Manchester, when I first arrived I lived with them for a couple of weeks while they found me a place. Then they found me some digs, boarding house, very close to the school, which was mainly occupied not by other students, but by other professionals, doctors and others. It was quite interesting. I was living with a sort of group of adults in a sort of a lodging house, but having been at the boarding school, you acquire a certain amount of independence. So I think although I would have been hesitant to send my own children at that age, that sort of thing, it again… I suppose it helps to develop your independence and maturity at that stage. So I got on quite well.

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

Duration: 1 minute, 25 seconds

Date story recorded: March 1997

Date story went live: 24 January 2008