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Peers from Manchester Grammar School


Mathematics and chess
Michael Atiyah Mathematician
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And then the Headmaster, or the 'High Master' of the school, was Eric James who subsequently became Lord James and the first Vice Chancellor of York. He was… I saw a bit of him. Well it was through him I got to the school, because they had to persuade the school to take me and my father had a few friends who knew the people, and so he looked after… took an interest in my being there when I first arrived.  And he was a quite young headmaster and lively, but I also was taught by him too – we used to play chess together. He was a good chess player.

[Q] Were you good at chess?

I was quite good at chess. I played for the school team, and I have a record, I don't think I ever lost a game, something like that. Then when I came up to Cambridge I played for the Trinity chess team and for the university chess team and things, and I was reasonably good but not… I think the standards have gone up much higher since those days… and I found that eventually, you know, chess is not much of a relaxation for a mathematician. You know, you do your hard day's thinking, and then you sit down and do four-hour chess game – it's pretty exhausting. Eventually… if you're a serious mathematician, you can't do both, you know. A lot of chess players have been mathematicians, and at some stage they become professionals, either one or the other, and you know, you can't really… or it's very difficult to keep them both up simultaneously as it's much, much too similar activities.

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, Trinity College

Duration: 1 minute, 24 seconds

Date story recorded: March 1997

Date story went live: 24 January 2008