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A cultured background


Travelling as a child
Michael Atiyah Mathematician
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They said in the Sudan there were only two… two seasons, there was the hot and the very hot, and so… and you had long… people who worked in the Civil Service – my father did – had long vacations when they can get away and come back to. Well, you know, the journey took a long time, so we would spend four or five months out of the Sudan and we – because my mother was from this country – we would tend to come to England for long periods in the spring and summer, and also my father's family were in the Lebanon, so we would also spend time in the Lebanon. So we used to travel from there right across Europe, every year. In those days you took either long steamers, boats all the way round through the Straits of Gibraltar, or you took boats across the Mediterranean and across France and England. So we did that every year, backwards and forwards for, you know, all my childhood. And in the Middle East, through the Lebanon; and also my aunt and her husband lived in Palestine. I spent time with them there… so… all… and my uncles in Cairo, all round the Middle East, that part, and England we… we travelled constantly right up until the war.

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: Middle East, Cairo, England

Duration: 1 minute, 6 seconds

Date story recorded: March 1997

Date story went live: 24 January 2008