Sir Michael Atiyah

Category: All Harkness Stories /  Higher Education /  Science, Technology, Engineering & Maths /  Up to 1959 / 

Sir Michael Atiyah (CFF 1955-56) OM, FRS, FRSE, FMedsci, FAA, FREng studied at Princeton, Institute of Advanced Study, for his fellowship to which he later returned as Professor for three years (69-72). His academic career started in Cambridge (student and early academia), transferring to Oxford for more senior and leadership roles. In 1990 Michael returned to Cambridge to create and direct the Isaac Newton Institute for Mathematical Sciences (90-96) and is now at the University of Edinburgh, where he has been Honorary Professor since 1997. Collaboration with others, many of whom he met in his fellowship year at Princeton, has been key to his work; with Hirzebruch he laid the foundation of topological K-theory and the Atiyah-Singer index theorem is widely used in counting the number of independent solutions to differential equations. Later work was inspired by theoretical physics leading to improvements in quantum field theory. Used to travel from an early age, born in London to Lebanese and Scottish parents, educated in Sudan, Cairo, Alexandria, and Manchester, he has travelled extensively. He has been elected to Royal Society equivalent organisations in many countries including America, Sweden, Ireland, Australia, India and Russia. Awarded over 30 Honorary degrees, Michael has also won numerous awards for his work, including the Fields medal in 1966 (for his work in developing K theory) and the Abel prize, jointly with Singer in 2004. Michael held leadership roles in many organisations, including being President of the London Mathematical Society (74-76), President of the Royal Society (90-95), Master of Trinity College (90-97) and Chancellor of the University of Leicester (95-05). An impressive educator Michael is responsible for inspiring generations of young mathematicians, many becoming prize winners in their own right. Michael was destined to be a mathematician and quotes "I started out by changing local currency into foreign currency everywhere I travelled as a child and ended up making money. That’s when my father realised that I would be a mathematician some day." Michael’s wife Lily, from Edinburgh, was with him from his CFF until she passed away at the age of 90 in March 2018. They had 3 sons. (Sir Michael wrote this in May 2018. He passed away in 2019)