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William Rowan Hamilton

William Rowan HamiltonWilliam Rowan Hamilton was one of the world's great mathematicians. Born at midnight on August 3/4, 1805, he spent his entire life in the environs of Dublin. Hamilton, a child prodigy, became Andrews Professor of Astronomy in Trinity College Dublin even before he had completed his undergraduate degree.

Hamilton is world renowned for his work in dynamics. He clearly saw structural similarities between the laws governing light waves and particle motion, thus conceptually unifying two apparently very different phenomena. This great insight was an essential component of Schrödinger's formulation of quantum mechanics, the underlying description of fundamental physics.

Hamilton is famous for predicting, on the basis of sophisticated calculation, a new physical phenomenon: Conical Refraction. The prediction, made in October 1832, was experimentally confirmed by Hamilton's Trinity colleague Humphrey Lloyd later that year. Hamilton stunned the world by inventing Quaternions on 16th October, 1843. This opened the door to new non-commuting structures in mathematics, such as groups and rings.

Hamilton remains today a towering figure in mathematics. He was deeply interested in philosophy and enjoyed writing poetry, being a close friend of Wordsworth. Knighted in 1835, he was the first foreign member elected to the National Academy of Science (USA) in 1865.

Last updated 27 January 2016>.