Science Lives: Robbert Dijkgraaf

When Robbert Dijkgraaf, Director and Leon Levy Professor at the Institute, was 15 years old, he read his first article about elementary particle physics in Scientific American.

“From that moment I was hooked,” Dijkgraaf says. He read everything he could find at his school library on science and physics. When he ran out of material there, he turned to the local university, checking out books on relativity and quantum mechanics. “To my amazement, I could understand all the new stuff I was learning,” says Dijkgraaf. “It’s one of the wonderful things about mathematics. Equations speak out to you, and if you understand them, there are basically no limits for what you can study and understand.”

What drew him to the world of mathematical physics, Dijkgraaf explains, 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. He discovered that the deepest way to describe the underlying science of nature is through the advanced mathematical equations that explain how it works. “I got this feeling that deep mathematical facts must also express something deep about nature,” he says.

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