What is the role of mathematics in understanding the unified structure of the smallest particles and the largest structures in the universe? Are the laws of Nature necessarily written in beautiful and elegant equations? Recent ideas in string theory and cosmology seem to suggest that this might indeed the case. At the same time the often counterintuitive ideas from quantum physics have also transformed modern mathematics itself, and have led to new insights in the abstract world of algebra and geometry.
Robbert Dijkgraaf (b. 1960) is Distinguished University Professor
of Mathematical Physics at the University of Amsterdam and from
May 2008 the President of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts
and Sciences. He studied theoretical physics and mathematics in
Utrecht, where (after an interlude studying painting) he obtained
his Ph.D. cum laude under supervision of Gerard Õt Hooft in 1989.
Subsequently he held positions at Princeton University and the
Institute for Advanced Study. He is a member of a research group
that works in string theory, quantum gravity, and the interface
of mathematics and particle physics. He is also interested in
creating more public awareness of mathematics and science, and
bridging the gap with the arts and humanities, for example as a
monthly columnist for the newspaper NRC Handelsblad. He was the
recipient of the 2001 Physica Prize of the Dutch Physical Society
and the 2003 NWO Spinoza Prize, the highest scientific award in
the Netherlands.
Introduction by David Gross