From the Director

Robbert Dijkgraaf

Welcome to the Institute for Advanced Study.

As envisioned by our founders in 1930, the Institute brings together scholars of the highest level and serves as an example across the world for the importance of supporting unrestricted academic freedom and undirected research. J. Robert Oppenheimer, our third Director, liked to use the word “inspiriting,” which aptly describes the Institute’s distinct environment of curiosity, freedom, and comradeship.

The Institute began with twenty-three Members in the School of Mathematics in 1933 and has grown to include more than seven thousand historians, mathematicians, natural scientists, and social scientists who make up the Institute’s community of scholars. A Faculty of no more than twenty-eight permanent Professors selects and mentors the roughly two hundred Members who arrive each year from around the world, about 60 percent from outside the United States, typically from more than thirty different countries.

It was the belief of founding Director Abraham Flexner that if the Institute “eschews the chase for the useful, the minds of its scholars will be liberated, they will be free to take advantage of surprises, and someday an unexpected discovery, apparently leading nowhere, will be found to be an indispensable link in a long and complex chain that may open new worlds in theory and practice.”

These long and complex chains have developed in numerous and astounding ways through research originating at the Institute, from the development of programmable computers to uncovering the deep symmetries of nature to advances in societal understanding and historical practice. This is due in large part to the precious freedom that Faculty and Members at the Institute experience––an independence enabled by the generosity of our founders and subsequent benefactors for which we are immensely grateful.

Albert Einstein was one of the first in a long line of distinguished Institute scientists and scholars who have produced a body of knowledge of the physical world and of humanity that has prompted technological and cultural advances in science and society. Yet the Institute’s remarkable history does not seem to weigh heavily on current scholars and scientists. Instead, the atmosphere focuses on the present where every twist and hairpin bend changes our view. What do we know? What do we yet need to understand? How should we try to comprehend it? Fundamental research at the Institute furthers our grasp of a world of diverse facts, structures, ideas, and cultures. We share the conviction of our founders that such unrestricted deep thinking will change this world, but where and how is always a surprise.

Robbert Dijkgraaf
Director and Leon Levy Professor