Notes for obituary
1. Reid, Miles Anthony
2. Date and place of birth: 30th Jan 1948, Hoddesdon, England
3. Parentage:
Father: John Rollo Reid, accountant, lived half his life in France
Mother: Edna Mary Reid (born Frost), school teacher; from Barnsley,
educated at Bangor teacher training college
3rd of 5 children, with older sister Allison, older brother Rollo,
younger brother Landon and younger sister Cilla
4. Ancestry:
Family name probably Scottish, from Edinburgh (?). Grandfather was an
adventurer and engineer, who founded John Reid and Sons, Structural steel
(still run by my older brother Rollo).
5. Marriage:
Married 30th Jan 1978 Nayo (born Hagino) from Toyota, Aichi-ken, Japan
3 daughters: Tiger Mary Hideko Reid (born 13th Dec 1982 in Coventry)
Ryuko Elizabeth Reid (born 26th Jun 1985 in Coventry, Ryu is Dragon)
Edna Murasaki Wolf Reid "Saki" (born 10th Jul 1989 in Kyoto)
6. Childhood:
Brought up in France from age 4 until age 12. Genteel middle class
British background (even when we lived in France), but no real background
in science. We had a chemistry set for Christmas when I was about 9, and
my older brother taught me how to make and set off various home-made
explosives.
7. Schools:
Primary school at Maison-Lafitte in the Paris suburbs. One item of
schooling was outstanding: at that time, French primary schools made a
magnificent job of teaching French grammar, with subjunctive constructions,
parsing of sentences, relative clauses, past participles agreeing in number
and gender with the direct object they apply to, etc. This truly wonderful
gift of language training has been with me throughout my career.
Secondary school: Petit Lyc'ee Condorcet, rue d'Amsterdam, Paris
for 15 months to age 12
Grammar school: Bournemouth School for Boys, Jan 1961-1966
Math, phys, chem. The teaching environment was stimulating, although none
of the teachers was outstanding. I was a disruptive student, and came into
frequent conflict with teachers. I was in a hurry to leave school and go to
university, and applied to Cambridge against the wishes of the school before
A level, while in 2nd year 6th form (= high school) (at that time it was
still traditional to stay on for a 3rd year in 6th form to apply to
Oxbridge).
Chemistry was mostly valency, balancing equations, the Periodic Table
and so on, little bit of quantitative and organic stuff and lots of lab
work. Physics involved a considerable use of calculus, including the ideas
of velocity as a vector, magnetic field as a vector field, instantaneous
velocity as a limit over shorter and shorter time intervals. We played
with oscilloscopes in the lab, and the teaching included quite a lot of
hints about trig functions and Fourier series. Perhaps the main influence
was the fact that everyone I knew at school was also studying math, phys
and chem, with the intention of continuing to do science at university.
I was a self-taught mathematician from age 14--15 onwards; by a miracle
my father happened to have a copy of [Hall and Knight, Higher algebra], and
I worked through it, doing most of the exercises for fun. The book did lots
of things: working with surds, the theory of equations (proto Galois
theory), infinite series, log and exponential functions, etc.; it is also
fortunate that there was no-one to tell me that the book was completely
outdated and all the stuff about infinite series was not rigorous, etc.
Especially after winning a place at Trinity College, Cambridge in Dec of my
last year at school, I bought all the books on the Cambridge precourse
reading list, and read all kinds of things with various levels of
understanding, e.g., books on Riemannian geometry with Christoffel symbols.
Hermann Bondi gave a series of ten televised lectures "E=mc^2: Thinking
relativity through" from the Royal Institution 5th Oct--7th Dec 1963. This
was possibly the only area of research or black magic clearly visible to a
high school student at the time, and my interest in Riemannian geometry
was probably motivated by General Relativity.
8. University:
Trinity College Cambridge, 1966-69
At Trinity, I did the 2nd year Part IB in my first year (6 or 8 students
did the same in my year). I never studied very hard or effectively,
getting through the Part IB and Part II exams on native intelligence. I
came badly unstuck in the Cambridge Part III, with bare pass marks, and I
would not have survived into the Cambridge PhD program without pushing by
various people (I conjecture Alan Baker, Swinnerton-Dyer and the chairman
of DPMMS, Hodge). Cambridge gave me various kinds of teaching and
supervision, but possibly the most important influences were Jeffrey
Goldstone and Peter Swinnerton-Dyer, who encouraged me to continue to
think for myself and not to take the technical details too seriously.
I was a keen participant in all the Cambridge u/g math societies (and in
turn secretary and president of Trinity Math Soc.), and went to many
popular lectures on all kinds of topics in math and physics, e.g., Dennis
Sciama on quasars and general relativity, John Polkinghorne on quarks and
what became the standard model. At that time, Cambridge taught a huge
variety of subjects, e.g., in Part II: analysis in Banach spaces (before
partial derivatives), things like Maxwell's equations and thermodynamics
as well as Galois theory, algebraic topology and Hodge's notorious
lectures on differential geometry (with Christoffel symbols mixed up
with connections, parallel transport, and de Rham cohomology). I have
subsequently reworked for myself every piece of pure math that was
paraded before me during my u/g career, so I have little memory left of
any of it as it actually happened. The applied stuff still provides
indispensable motivation for understanding pure math (e.g., div, grad and
curl and integrating Green's functions for electromagnetism, with no
pretence at rigour, is a huge advantage in understanding de Rham and
Hodge cohomology). Quantum field theory was largely responsible for my
near-disaster in Part III. Already as an undergraduate, I developed the
life-long defence mechanism of sleeping in lectures.
9. Postgraduate studies:
Cambridge 1969--70, IHES 1970--72
When DPMMS took me on as a graduate student, I was supposed to study
with Frank Adams, but he hadn't yet arrived from Manchester, so I was
given a free rein. I had to learn spectral sequences in order to be a
student of Frank Adams (famous for the Adams spectral sequence), so I got
involved in black magic called Abelian categories and sheaf theory, and
via that algebraic geometry. Swinnerton-Dyer advised me to read Mumford's
little red book. Jean-Louis Colliot-Th'el`ene spent that year in
Cambridge, and we ran joint seminars, first on Serre's famous book Corps
Locaux, then on various things in algebraic geometry, including Mumford's
red book. Since Grothendieck was the source of the most prominent black
magic at the time, I quickly formed the desire to study in Paris. At the
British Math Colloquium in York that year, Swinnerton-Dyer introduced me
to J-P. Serre, who told me that Grothendieck was no longer taking
students, and advised me to go to Deligne. I visited Paris in May 1970 to
meet Deligne, attending the Bourbaki seminar (at which Deligne lectured on
Shimura varieties). Deligne told me to read about Hodge theory from
Griffiths' papers and K3 surfaces from the Shafarevich seminar. In summer
1970, I met Mumford in Cambridge, went to the Oslo Nordic summer school
and the Nice International Congress of Mathematicians.
Looking back on this period, it is hard not to be struck by the
catalogue of disasters averted and extraordinary strokes of good luck in
being directed into my subject.
At IHES, Deligne told me to study the Torelli problem for K3 surfaces.
The problem was much too hard for me -- it was only solved in the way
Deligne wanted (together with surjectivity of the Torelli map) about 10
years later, after many developments and several errors (some of them
published). How I went on from this to become a 3-folder is described in
detail in my autobiographical paper ["25 years of 3-folds -- an old
person's view", in Explicit birational geometry of 3-folds, A. Corti and
M. Reid (eds.), CUP 2000, 313--343.]
In the 2 years in Paris I was exposed to a quite extraordinary spectrum
of math activities -- the courses at Orsay and Deligne's lectures at the
IHES, the Bourbaki seminars and Serre's lecture courses at College de
France, lectures by visitors to Paris such as Van de Ven, Bombieri and
Hirzebruch. I also spent 3 months at the Warwick symposium run by Mumford
in summer 1971, meeting Mike Artin, Seshadri, C.P. Ramanujam, Bombieri and
many others. In passing, I absorbed from Deligne, Artin and Van de Ven the
ideas of the classification of surfaces, and especially from Bombieri the
problem of Godeaux surfaces, which later grew into one of the main
preoccupations and sources of inspiration of my career.
During the time in Paris, I learnt German and Russian at various
evening classes run on the Orsay campus. After about 6 months of Russian,
I volunteered to translate a substantial paper by Manin on Iwasawa theory
and modular curves. I learned a huge amount of math from the paper itself,
and the red ink on my work by the editor Kurt Hirsch taught me a lot about
math style and the rights and duties of a translator.
9a. Postdoctoral positions
In the six years between my thesis in Jun 1972 and my permanent
employment at Warwick in Oct 1978, I held a research fellowship at
Christ's College, Cambridge, which I intermitted with 2 years in the
Soviet Union on British Council exchanges, one year in Japan as a Royal
Society visiting fellow, and 5 months at the Univ. of Erlangen. I had many
mathematical and cultural reasons for wanting to visit Russia, beyond the
fact that I had no prospect of employment when I was finishing my PhD.
10. Appointments: see my CV on
www.maths.warwick.ac.uk/~miles/Personal/CV
11. Honours:
First holder of Tokyo University's endowed chair of Mathematical Theory
of Prediction and Control, 1990
2002, FRS (Fellow of the Royal Society of London for the Improvement of
Natural Knowledge)
2002--2003, British Hispanic Foundation "Queen Victoria Eugenia" Chair
of Doctoral Studies at the Complutense University, Madrid
12. Views on Education and Science policy
Too complicated to summarise here. See my "Collected Sermons", e.g.
the 2001 diatribe on Warwick exams
www.maths.warwick.ac.uk/~miles/Sermons/diatribe
13. General interests
Science and popular science. History of math. Current affairs and human
rights. Language, history, culture and science of whatever country I
happen to be studying at the time (most recently, Korea, Romania,
Australia). Dreams of youth, especially attractive young ladies. Piano,
classical music, including 20th century and contemporary; unfortunately,
I only started piano around 17, and gave it up for about 15 years after
my PhD, before starting again with my kids (all of whom are now much
better than me).
14. Possible biographer
Jeremy Gray (Open Univ. and Univ. of Warwick)
These notes are prepared for biographical memoirs of the Royal Society
and are available on
www.maths.warwick.ac.uk/~miles/Personal/obituary
last modified Jul 2002.