Photo of Isadore M. Singer

Isadore M. Singer

  • National Medal of Science
  • Mathematics And Computer Science

For his inspired revival of differential geometry and its connections to analysis; for his contribution to the discovery and applications of the index theorem for differential operators; and for his leadership in using geometric and topological methods in connection with theoretical physics.

Isadore Singer has spent an incredible 60+years on a mathematical journey, mainly at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Understanding Singer’s research and its implications can be difficult to grasp for many people. “Math is only available to a few. It is like explaining music to someone who is deaf,” Singer acknowledged. Most cited for proving the Atiyah-Singer Index theorem, Singer’s work brought tremendous insight into global analysis and theoretical physics such as string theory. The applications to physics are not surprising. Singer became interested in physics as a high school senior speaking on relativity and then returning to grad school at the University of Chicago following a stint as a signal officer during WW2. ‘I found math much more elegant, more modern compared to quantum mechanics,” remarked Singer. “So I thought I would stay with beauty.” Singer also dedicated himself to the classroom. “For me the classroom is an important counterpart research.” It is not surprising that Singer would find joy and meaning in teaching, especially undergraduates. His parents were Polish immigrants. Life was very difficult for the Singer family during the Depression years in Detroit. When Singer was ready to start college tuition money was still a luxury. Singer, who expected to attend a local school, received a full scholarship from the University of Michigan — $50 per semester. Off he went with his mother declaring that he could not ignore this opportunity. Singer still needed to cover his room and board of $2.25 per week and did so by working three jobs, including selling UM football tickets.