Physics, Art, Mathematics, Science: Hidden Connections. A conference marking Sir Michael Berry’s 75th Birthday

Sir Michael Berry, IOP Publishing’s most prolific author, and long-time Editorial Board member on JPhysA, had a conference held in his honour on Friday 1 April 2016. This was a joint celebration of not only his 75th birthday, but also 50 years of working at the University of Bristol. Colleagues and friends gathered for the occasion and shared their fond memories of not only his academic achievements, but also his diverse range of interests and supportive nature. Here are some of the highlights:

Berry’s Law ‘nothing is ever discovered for the first time’

Professor Eric Heller described his pleasant drive across the English countryside with Michael. This sedate outing rapidly picked up pace when Eric mentioned he may have read a paper describing something similar to the Berry Phase. Michael promptly accelerated from 90-130 km/h as he had plans in the evening and wanted to read this paper as soon as possible. The pleasant drive may have reached a rapid end, but Eric emphasised Michael’s continuous support and encouragement for him, despite them technically being in ‘competition’.

Ouroborology: a quantum wave as a mythical snake


Ouroboros – the mythical snake.  Image credit: iStockphoto

Professor Jon Keating, Chair of the Heilbronn Institute for Mathematical Research, gave an insight into his thought processes in choosing to apply for a PhD under Michael’s supervision. The high quality of the research was a given, but it was the supportive and conducive atmosphere that tipped the balance. Most importantly was the unconventional nature of Michael – a photo of him in an Indian tunic held a lot of weight.

The decision proved correct and Jon found himself to not be constrained by field in his research; taking, just as Michael does, inspiration from science, art and music. Disappointingly, not all of these themes took off, and the term ‘ouroborology’ coined by Michael for a quantum wave – reflective of the mythical snake ‘ouroboros’ eating its tail – is not commonly used despite appearing in ‘Riemann’s zeta function: a model for quantum chaos?’ (Berry, 1985).

Bores, frogs and rainbows

Dr Matin Durrani, Editor of Physics World, highlighted some of Michael’s more disparate interests. In his own words, he delights in ‘uncovering down-to-earth or dramatic and sometimes beautiful examples of abstract mathematical ideas: the arcane in the mundane’. A long-time contributor to Physics World, Sir Berry is a journalist’s dream as he intertwines expertise in mathematics to natural world phenomena and art to name a few. His love of tidal bores, application of mathematical singularities to rainbows and of course his joint IgNobel for a levitating frog provide ample opportunities for articles of more general interest.

Article numbers

Read more:

  1. Riemann zeros in radiation patterns: II. Fourier transforms of zeta‘ M V Berry 2015 J. Phys. A: Math. Theor. 48 385203
  2. The squint Moon and the witch ball‘ M V Berry 2015 New J. Phys. 17 060201
  3. Note on the helicity decomposition of spin and orbital optical currents‘ Andrea Aiello and M V Berry 2015 J. Opt. 17 062001
  4. Chasing the Silver Dragon‘ Michael Berry 2015 Phys. World 28 (7) 45

  5. Five momenta‘ M V Berry 2013 Eur. J. Phys. 34 1337
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Categories: Journal of Physics A: Mathematical and Theoretical, JPhys+

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