History of the Department

Blue skies at CMS

The Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics (DAMTP) was first established as a Department of the University of Cambridge in 1959, by George Batchelor. Succeeding Heads of Department have been Keith Moffatt (1983-1991), David Crighton (1991-2000), Tim Pedley (2000-2005) and Peter Haynes (2005-present).

The Department was first housed in Free School Lane and then in 1964 moved to a redeveloped building on the Old Press Site in between Silver Street and Mill Lane. George Batchelor himself took a detailed interest in the internal design of the building and, in particular insisted on the inclusion of a basement laboratory for experimental work, primarily in fluid mechanics.

By the early 1990s the Old Press Site building needed a radical overhaul and the space available there was limiting the growth. The decision was therefore taken by DAMTP, together with its sister Department of Pure Mathematics and Mathematical Statistics (DPMMS), to seek a move to a new site. Hard work on fundraising from many members of DAMTP and DPMMS and generous donations from individuals, as well as investment from the University and Colleges, allowed the development of a green field site in West Cambridge, adjacent to Wilberforce and Clarkson Roads. The result, completed in 2002, is the new Centre for Mathematical Sciences (CMS) which accommodates both DAMTP, including greatly expanded laboratory facilities, and DPMMS, as well as the Isaac Newton Institute for Mathematical Sciences and the Betty and Gordon Moore Library (BGML), the University's new physical science and technology library.

Professor Stephen HawkingAlthough on the timescales of the University of Cambridge DAMTP was founded relatively recently, research in applied mathematics and theoretical physics has developed in Cambridge over more than 300 years through the great traditions established by the giants of the past, including Newton, Clerk Maxwell, Babbage, Stokes, Larmor, Rayleigh, Eddington, Dirac, GI Taylor and Sir Harold Jeffreys. The oldest Professorship in Mathematics is the Lucasian Professorship, established in 1663, held by Sir Isaac Newton from 1669 to 1701 and, in the lifetime of DAMTP, by Paul Dirac, Sir James Lighthill and, between 1979 and 2009, by Professor Stephen Hawking, renowned for his work on black holes, general relativity and cosmology and as the author of the best-selling books A Brief History of Time and The Universe in a Nutshell. In 2009 Michael Green, one of the pioneers of String Theory, was elected the 18th holder of the Lucasian Professorship.

The move to CMS has allowed DAMTP significant space for expansion. New research activities in mathematical biology and in quantum information have already been established, as well as the Millenium Mathematics Project, an important and very successful initiative in mathematics education.

DAMTP celebrated its 50th Jubilee in 2009 and now looks backwards on a very successful first 50 years and forwards towards an exciting future.