FACES OF MATHEMATICS

Timothy Gowers

Professor Timothy Gowers

University of Cambridge

Timothy Gowers is the Rouse Ball Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University. He works in combinatorics, combinatorial number theory, and in the theory of Banach spaces, and has made fundamental contributions to these fields. He has solved many important problems on the structure of Banach spaces, and in combinatorics he has worked on difficult problems involving randomness and regularity in number theory. His exceptional insight and clarity have led to remarkable advances in these theories, arrived at by novel and creative combinations of analytic techniques and combinatorial ingenuity. His achievements were recognised in 1998 by the award of a Fields Medal (in mathematics, the equivalent of a Nobel Prize).

"In very general terms I suppose if you divide mathematics into that which uses `elementary' methods and mathematics that uses a lot of sophisticated theory and well-established techniques, then I'm drawn towards the former rather than the latter.

"I just try and find certain problems that I might be able to think about profitably, and quite often I think about problems and get absolutely nowhere.... with most problems I think about I get absolutely nowhere, but with Banach spaces and combinatorics it was just the case with both of them, there were problems that seemed reasonable to tackle, and I found them interesting.

"I like to talk about completing the square, when you have result A that generalises in one direction to result B and in another direction to result C: then you want to find the generalisation of C that corresponds to how B generalises A.

"I can work at home and in my office, and those are the two places I work most. Just anywhere where I've got a pad of paper and a biro... But if you're sitting waiting in an airport lounge, which for many people would be a very boring experience, for a mathematician it isn't. Get out some paper and have a think about things."

Return to Faces of Mathematics homepage. Return to Timothy Gowers's photograph.