Robbert Dijkgraaf

The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge by Director Robbert Dijkgraaf and IAS founding Director Abraham Flexner, “read in the right government places, might inoculate the nation against philistine utilitarianism,” observes Pulitzer Prize–winning columnist George F. Will in the Washington Post.

“Our whole education is a process of confrontation between our imagination and the reality of established facts,” Institute Director and Leon Levy Professor Robbert Dijkgraaf tells the European Molecular Biology Laboratory. “I think the greatest scientists have such an intense curiosity that they’re not discouraged by the current practice of the field and they push the boundaries of knowledge.”

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 Nautlius 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.

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.

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

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 and the resulting, often surprising, advancements in knowledge.”

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.