Sir Michael Atiyah, Celebrated Mathematician, Dies at 89

Sir Michael Atiyah, a former Professor and Member at the Institute for Advanced Study, passed away on the morning of January 11, at the age of 89. As one of the world’s most revered mathematicians, Atiyah produced work that has served as an inspiration to scholars around the globe, from his first major contribution—topological K-theory—to advances in quantum field theory.

Atiyah was the recipient of a Fields Medal, the Abel Prize, and the American Philosophical Society’s Benjamin Franklin Medal, among many other honors. Former President of the Royal Society and the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Atiyah was most recently an Honorary Professor in the School of Mathematics at the University of Edinburgh.

Atiyah joined the Institute as a Member in 1955 with subsequent terms in 1956, 1959–60, 1967–68, 1975, and 1987. He was a Professor in the School of Mathematics from 1969–72. His other positions include Savilian Professor of Geometry at the University of Oxford, Master of Trinity College at the University of Cambridge, founding Director of the Isaac Newton Institute for Mathematical Sciences, and Chancellor of the University of Leicester.

“Sir Michael Atiyah was a dear mentor, friend, and role model, unmatched in intellect and energy,” said Robbert Dijkgraaf, Institute Director and Leon Levy Professor. “His legacy in mathematics and physics will last forever. His passing is a terrible loss, and we extend our deepest condolences to his family. He will be greatly missed by friends and colleagues around the world. In celebration of his spirit, we share Michael’s poem ‘Dreams’.”

In the broad light of day mathematicians check their equations and their proofs,
leaving no stone unturned in their search for rigour. But, at night, under the full moon,
they dream, they float among the stars and wonder at the mystery of the heavens: they are inspired. Without dreams there is no art, no mathematics, no life.
—Michael Atiyah


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