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Mathematics and chess

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Academics at Manchester Grammar School
Michael Atiyah Mathematician
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Well Manchester Grammar School is a very, very competitive school. And, I mean, I… by the time I'd arrived I'd already taken my A levels, but I came in and I thought I'd be well ahead of the rest of the class, but that wasn't the case. I had to catch up on a lot of stuff. They didn't take them for another year, but they covered much more ground. So it was a very high pressure school, very good mathematical training. I worked very, very hard.

I had a very dedicated teacher… maths master who'd been at the school for a long time – a good mathematician – probably these days he wouldn't have gone into school teaching, he'd have been… you know, got himself a job in a university. But he was very dedicated. He used to write up vast quantities of mathematical notes. He didn't believe in the books. The books were, you know, usually bad, so he'd improve on the books. And we had copied out enormous sets of manuscripts – his way of doing the problems – so until recently I had trunkfulls of these things at home. But he was very inspiring in a way. He really did inspire his students, made them work very hard, very competitive, but I think if you're receptive to that sort thing it's actually very effective. I enjoyed it, but as I say, I had to work very hard even though I'd come, I thought, with a good start. But I don't think I've had to work as hard ever since.

[Q] What was the teacher's name?

Heywood, Mr Heywood, yes FL Heywood. Very nice man, though he tended to be a bit philosophical. He was a, sort of, slightly elderly; elderly meaning he was probably younger than I am now, and had a bit of a stoop and glasses and he would every now and again stand back and start to philosophise, give a full… we would listen with interest. I mean he wouldn’t just talk about mathematics, he'd talk about bigger issues and so on.

Eminent British mathematician Sir Michael Atiyah 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: school teacher, mathematics

Duration: 1 minute, 50 seconds

Date story recorded: March 1997

Date story went live: 24 January 2008