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Irish mathematics for St. Patrick’s Day

17 Mar 2013, 15:31 UTC
Irish mathematics for St. Patrick’s Day
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With so many websites celebrating the science of beer on St. Patrick’s Day, I thought I’d focus on something completely different: Ireland’s greatest mathematician and one of his great discoveries. On October 16, 1843, the great Irish mathematician William Rowan Hamilton was walking along the Royal Canal in Dublin. He had been pondering for a [...]

The plaque commemorating the discovery of quaternions by William Rowan Hamilton.
With so many websites celebrating the science of beer on St. Patrick’s Day, I thought I’d focus on something completely different: Ireland’s greatest mathematician and one of his great discoveries. On October 16, 1843, the great Irish mathematician William Rowan Hamilton was walking along the Royal Canal in Dublin. He had been pondering for a long time whether complex numbers could be extended to higher dimensions. During his perambulation, he realized the answer was “yes”, and carved his solution on the Brougham Bridge. The plaque shown on the right commemorates the discovery. (For physics enthusiasts: Hamilton is the same man who discovered Hamiltonian dynamics, which in turn underlies quantum mechanics and much of chaos theory.)
To understand Hamilton’s solution, recall that an imaginary number is the square root of a negative real number. ...

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