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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Honorary fellow of the Faculty wins Abel Prize for mathematics

Sir Michael Atiyah OM FRS (right), an honorary fellow of the faculty of actuaries, has been awarded the 2004 Abel Prize for mathematics jointly with the American Isadore Singer.

Recognising that there is no Nobel Prize for mathematics, the Norwegian government established the Abel Prize (first awarded in 2003) in memory of Niels Henrik Abel, 1802–29.

Sir Michael was the Savilian Professor of Geometry at Oxford University, president of the Royal Society 1990–95, and the master of Trinity College, Cambridge 1990–97.

The Atiyah-Singer index theorem is one of the cornerstones of 20th century mathematics. It equates the ‘analytic index’ of an elliptic differential operator on as suitable manifold with the ‘topological index’. The theorem provide an important bridge between topology and the differential equations of physics. It therefore makes a key link between pure mathematics and theoretical physics. There is a good introduction to the importance of the Atiyah-Singer theorem on the website www.abelprisen.no/en/nyheter/nyhet.html?id=19.

Sir Michael, to whom the International Mathematical Union awarded a Fields Medal in 1966, is currently an honorary professor at Edinburgh University.

It may interest actuaries to know that the Savilian Chair was held by JJ Sylvester from 1883 to 1897 and by Edmond Halley from 1704 to 1742. JJ Sylvester was vice-president of the Institute of Actuaries when it was founded in 1848 and for 11 years, from 1845 to 1855, was the actuary to Equity & Law. Edmond Halley produced, in 1693, the first life table, the so-called Breslau Table, with a rate of mortality at each age and showed how joint life annuities, on up to three lives, could be calculated.