Robbert Dijkgraaf

Click here to view the talk "The Unreasonable Effectiveness of String Theory in Mathematics" given by Robbert Dijkgraaf at the String Math 2020 conference, held July 30.

We celebrate our 90th year with a special message from Director Robbert Dijkgraaf, IAS scholars past and present, and other members of our community.


“Trying to appreciate mathematics without understanding its inner workings is like reading a description of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony instead of hearing it.” Robbert Dijkgraaf, Director and Leon Levy Professor, on the differences between generic and exceptional beauty, and why one type of beauty proves more useful in describing the universe.

Freeman Dyson at IAS

Robbert Dijkgraaf, IAS Director and Leon Levy Professor, remembers Freeman J. Dyson, the legendary physicist, writer, and fearless intellectual explorer who served on the Faculty in the School of Natural Sciences at the Institute for over 65 years. “As an eternal graduate student, a ‘rebel’ in his own words, Dyson was unafraid to question everything and everybody," writes Dijkgraaf in the PNAS. “… Perhaps he understood better than most that progress stems from disagreement more than agreement.”

Robbert Dijkgraaf, Director and Leon Levy Professor of the Institute for Advanced Study, sat down virtually with Joanne Lipman, IAS’s Peretsman Scully Distinguished Journalism Fellow, to discuss the coronavirus epidemic, its impact on IAS, and the elevated role of science in society.

Joy of x podcast

On the podcast "The Joy of x," mathematician Steven Strogatz and Robbert Dijkgraaf, IAS Director and Leon Levy Professor, explore quantum reality, discussing the frontiers of string theory and why space and time might not be the most fundamental things in the universe.

Robbert Dijkgraaf with France A. Córdova in front of Fuld Hall at the Institute for Advanced Study

“The future of knowledge relies on the cultivation of aspiring scholars and scientists from around the world,” says Robbert Dijkgraaf, IAS Director and Leon Levy Professor.

Illustration by Robbert Dijkgraaf

The artwork by Robbert Dijkgraaf, Director and Leon Levy Professor, depicts Russian nesting to capture the different scales of knowledge about the natural world, from the largest matryoshka doll that depicts our universe through the cosmic microwave background, the “first light” emitted soon after the Big Bang, to the smallest doll, the Planck scale, where spacetime becomes a quantum phenomenon.

Robbert Dijkgraaf during the IAS Family Science Talk "Einstein's Dream"

In an exploration of curiosity and adventures into the unknown, Robbert Dijkgraaf, Director and Leon Levy Professor, explains the important role that curiosity played in Albert Einstein's work, leading to discoveries that are everywhere around us, from lasers and nuclear energy to GPS. 


Director and Leon Levy Professor Robbert Dijkgraaf and Edward Witten, Charles Simonyi Professor in the School of Natural Sciences, discuss the connections between math and physics, including some of the outstanding questions in quantum gravity, quantum field theory, and number theory.


On May 29, 2019, the Institute for Advanced Study hosted a celebration of The Universe Speaks in Numbers by frequent Director's Visitor Graham Farmelo. The public event, which was held on the centenntial of the 1919 eclipse that provided the first experimental verification of Einstein's theory of relativity, brought together some of the world's foremost science communicators for an afternoon of talks discussing the close relationship between mathematics and physics.

On May 4, 2019, Demis Hassabis, Co-founder and CEO of DeepMind, discussed the capabilities and power of self-learning systems in a public lecture at the Institute for Advanced Study.

Professor Emeritus Freeman Dyson reads from his book Maker of Patterns: An Autobiography through Letters, a collection of personal letters to relatives, written between 1940 and the late 1970s, followed by a conversation with Director and Leon Levy Professor Robbert Dijkgraaf

Writing for NRC Handelsblad, Robbert Dijkgraaf, IAS Director and Leon Levy Professor, likens IAS Professor and Abel Prize Laureate Robert Langlands’s program, “a deep connection between two completely different parts of mathematics: on the one hand, numbers and their relations, on the other hand, geometrical patterns and their symmetries,” to a mathematical Rosetta Stone.

Robbert Dijkgraaf, Director and Leon Levy Professor, gives a talk to incoming scholars on the history and mission of the Institute during Welcome Day on September 25, 2017. 

“It is indeed an endless cycle of imagination and concentration, of divergence and convergence, of playing and thinking that deter­mines the rhythm of science and scholarship,” writes Robbert Dijkgraaf on the occasion of becoming the Institute’s ninth Director and first Leon Levy Professor. “The Institute is devoted to creating and sup­porting these experiences.”


"In a perverse way, the refutation of a great conjecture can be even better news than its success, since the failure makes clear that our imagined map of the mathematical world is seriously wrong. Defeat can be productive, the reverse of a Pyrrhic victory." In a column for Quanta Magazine, Robbert Dijkgraaf, Director and Leon Levy Professor, covers how conjectures are proven, what makes a particular one great, and the role conjecture plays in the advancement of mathematics.

Why are there six “flavors” of quarks, three “generations” of neutrinos, and one Higgs particle? Robbert Dijkgraaf, Director and Leon Levy Professor, explores the complex search for a single description of reality.

Reductionism breaks the world into elementary building blocks. Emergence finds the simple laws that arise out of complexity. Robbert Dijkgraaf, Director and Leon Levy Professor, explores how these two complementary ways of viewing the universe come together in modern theories of quantum gravity.

Mathematics might be more of an environmental science than we realize. Robbert Dijkgraaf, Director and Leon Levy Professor, explores the possibility of developing a new realm of mathematics in order to fully understand the quantum world. 

The Strings 2019 conference held July 9–13 in Brussels, Belgium, featured talks with Robbert Dijkgraaf, Director and Leon Levy Professor of the Institute; School of Natural Sciences Professors Juan Maldacena, Edward Witten, Nima Arkani-Hamed, and Nathan Seiberg; and IAS scholars past and present. 

“From the perspective of gravity, [a black hole] is the simplest object we know of, no more than a hole in space. At the same time, according to quantum theory, it is the most complex object, the most compact way to store matter and information.” Robbert Dijkgraaf, Director and Leon Levy Professor, discusses the paradoxical nature of black holes and their role in twenty-first-century physics.


Listen to the BBC Radio 3 broadcast by Director's Visitor (2018) Sally Marlow, who interviews IAS Director Robbert Dijkgraaf, and Professors Joan Wallach Scott, Freeman J. Dyson, Nima Arkani-Hamed, and Myles W. Jackson.

Scientists are working to decipher and harness the power of quantum mechanics, but the strange nature of entanglement and other quantum phenomena continues to confound researchers, posing new and mystifying questions. On January 9, 2019, PBS aired “Einstein’s Quantum Riddle,” now available online, featuring Institute Director and Leon Levy Professor Robbert Dijkgraaf, who provides audiences with a deeper understanding of nature’s quantum language. 


Dennis Overbye of the New York Times surveys the state of contemporary physics, highlighting a recent column by Institute Director and Leon Levy Professor Robbert Dijkgraaf for Quanta Magazine. 

In a video produced for Inverse, IAS Director and Leon Levy Professor Robbert Dijkgraaf sits down with a group of seven-year-olds to answer the question “Why is the sky blue?” Through a series of simple experiments, Dijkgraaf and the “class” explore light and color to arrive at an answer.

Neelie Kroes of the European Commission converses with Robbert Dijkgraaf, Director of the Institute for Advanced Study and Leon Levy Professor, about the opportunities of Open Access and Open Science.

What drew Robbert Dijkgraaf, Director and Leon Levy Professor, to the world of mathematical physics? He explains that it was the fundamental fact that all the structure we see around us — all the natural beauty, order, and disorder — can be explained by mathematical equations. “I got this feeling that deep mathematical facts must also express something deep about nature,” Dijkgraaf tells the Simons Foundation.

“The basic element of science is not the knowledge per se, but the method, the romantic feeling that there’s this vast ocean of knowledge to be explored,” says Robbert Dijkgraaf, Director and Leon Levy Professor. Dijkgraaf reflects on his early encounters with science in his childhood attic in the Netherlands for an animated piece by Nautilus Magazine.