One of our most influential Dubliners was Sir William Rowan Hamilton. He was a 19th Century Mathematician, Astronomer, Physicist and Linguist who liberated Algebra when he discovered quarternion multiplication. This continues to impact today.
If you have a Smartphone and take “selfies”,then you have been impacted by Hamilton. We can see its influence in Astronautics, robotics and theoretical mathematics. Not forgetting Computer Visualisation where the computer gaming industry is worth over €100 billion dollars annually.
Sir William Rowan Hamilton was born on the 4th August 1805 in a house on Dominic Street Dublin. His parents were Sarah and Archibald. Archibald was a solicitor in Dunboyne. At the age of 3 his parents sent him to his Uncle James. James was a linguist and under his tutelage Sir William Rowan Hamilton thrived.
At the age of thirteen he had as many languages as he had years In 1813 an event happened that would steer Sir William Rowan Hamilton on his true path. American calculating prodigy,nine year old Zerah Colburn was pitted against Sir William Rowan Hamilton . Colburn won. Sir William Rowan Hamilton was somewhat competitive and this moved him on his path to mathematics.
Aged 18, he entered Trinity College Dublin where he studied classics and mathematics. He achieved two optimes. Ruminating Practically every day, he would walk along this canal. Taking the air and ruminating on all things mathematical. Although he was the astronomer at Dunsink Observatory he had no real interest in it.He preferred to leave that to his family.
While walking here on the 16th October 1843,in a flash of genius he discovered the fundamental formula for quarternion multiplication and cut it on the bridge Lest he forget the formula for he knew the implications were huge,he picked up a pebble and on this bridge he cut out the formula. 1=j2=ijk=-1 .
He was twice awarded the Cunningham medal. The first warded in 1834 was for his work on conical refractions for which he also received a Royal Medal from the Royal Society the following year. He was to win the Cunningham medal again in 1848.
On of the most influential Dubliners of all time Sir William Rowan Hamilton died on the 2nd September 1865 and he is buried at Mt Jerome cemetery.