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Broom's Bridge along the Royal Canal where Hamiliton inscribed his famous formula for quaternions.

Sir William Rowan Hamilton

1805 - 1865 Irish Mathematician and Scientist


SIR WILLIAM ROWAN HAMILTON - Hamilton was born in 38, Dominic Street, Dublin. As a child he showed prodigious ability as a linguist. He learnt Hebrew at 7 and by the age of 13 had added several; classical and modern European languages plus Persian, Arabic, Hindustani, Sanskrit, Maratha and Malay. In adult life he read in these languages for relaxation. As a young teenager he also competed in public contests in mental arithmetic. At 18 he entered Trinity College, where he remained all his life, and at 22 he was made Professor of Astronomy, before he had even graduated. One of the professorial perks was living in the fine house at Dunsink Observatory in Castleknock. He died after a severe attack of gout brought on by excessive eating and drinking.

He made important contributions to classical mechanics, optics and algebra. His studies of mechanical and optical systems led him to discover new mathematical concepts and techniques. His greatest contribution is probably the re-formulation of Newtonian mechanics, now called Hamiltonian mechanics. This has proved central to the modern study of classical field theories, such as electro-magnetism, and to the development of quantum mechanics. In mathematics he is best known for the invention of quaternions, which are employed today in aspects of space travel and computer gaming.

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William Rowan Hamilton

Hamilton in Episode One

Dick visits Dunsink Observatory in episode one, where Hamilton was once an acting manager. It was during a walk from Dunsink to Dublin City that Hamilton realised quaternions.

Read more about episode one »