Friend of the University of Rochester

15th January 1996

President Thomas Jackson
Administration 240
University of Rochester
NY 14627

Dear President,

I understand that you are contemplating major changes in the Mathematics Department at the University of Rochester. The American Mathematical Society, of which I am a member, has expressed its concern and is setting up a task force under Professor Arthur Jaffe of Harvard University to investigate the matter.

I hesitate to interfere in the internal affairs of another university and I can quite understand that universities have to respond to financial pressures by reassessing their activities. However, I am concerned that the role of Mathematics may not be fully appreciated and I hope you will allow me to address the matter from that viewpoint.

Perhaps I should explain that, as the recently retired President of the Royal Society (the UK equivalent of the US National Academy of Sciences). I have had responsibilities across the whole of science. In addition I currently direct the Isaac Newton Institute for Mathematical Sciences in Cambridge, where we run programmes that involve the interaction of mathematics with other fields.

From all this experience I am firmly of the view that Mathematics still occupies a central role in both the Natural and Social Sciences. Increasingly the complex problems that scientists now face require more sophisticated mathematical understanding. The advent of more powerful computers has in no way decreased the fundamental relevance of mathematics.

I can illustrate the scope of mathematical interaction with other fields by listing just a few of the interdisciplinary programmes that we have run at the Newton Institute in the past few years:

(i) Computer Vision (Robotics etc)
(ii) Epidemics (Measles, Aids)
(iii) Geometry and Physics (Elementary particles)
(iv) Cryptology (Security of codes)
(v) Financial Mathematics (Derivatives)
(vi) Meteorology (Weather forecasting)

I hope that in assessing the role of Mathematics at Rochester, you will bear in mind the scope and opportunity for interaction with other disciplines.

Yours sincerely,

Michael Atiyah

American Mathematical Society