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The Isaac Newton Institute


Cambridge in 1990
Michael Atiyah Mathematician
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[Q] Was it the Isaac Newton Institute or Trinity College which lured you back to Cambridge?

Well it was… a combination of the two. Primarily Trinity College I think; and if it hadn't been for the... the Mastership of Trinity I might or might not have made the move to go. I was involved in supporting the development of the Isaac Newton Institute, you know, in the previous negotiations; I thought it was a good thing to have a national institute and all that. And I might have considered, sort of, moving and taking charge of it, and if I had done, of course, that would have been a pretty full-time job and I would have spent most of my time doing it.

Then the Trinity thing came up and totally transformed the scene in a way, so that naturally they came together. And then of course there was the Royal Society… came in shortly after that, and that made life even more complicated, because whereas before I could see myself, sort of, being in Trinity and doing the Isaac Newton Institute as a kind of part, half-time job; with the Royal Society as well it was clear that my involvement in the Newton Institute would have to be very, sort of, small. Somebody else would have to do most of the work, all I could do would be to help to oversee it; and so that shifted me away. So they all happened together. It was a very... very, sort of, sudden change and so as you say, high energy mathematics had to rather take a back seat.

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: Cambridge, Trinity College

Duration: 1 minute, 18 seconds

Date story recorded: March 1997

Date story went live: 24 January 2008