Celebrating Ireland's greatest  mathematician

Listen to the latest episode of Ibec Voices where we discuss upcoming Hamilton Day celebrations and the fascinating story of William Rowan Hamilton, with expert insights from: 

  • Danny McCoy, CEO Ibec;
  • Dr Mary Canning, Royal Irish Academy, President;
  • Professor Caroline Series, Emeritus Professor of Mathematics at the University of Warwick.

Who is Hamilton?

William Rowan Hamilton was born in 1805 in Dublin and is universally recognised as the greatest mathematician, and arguably the greatest scientist, that Ireland has produced to date.

He came to early fame for his work on optics, including his remarkable prediction of the phenomenon of conical refraction, but his lasting fame is for his work on the fundamentals of mechanics.

Hamilton’s canonical form of the equations of motion, and his emphasis on the importance of variational principles, remain at the heart of theoretical physics and were essential bridges from the world of classical physics to the modern quantum mechanics.


Eureka moment at Broome Bridge

On 16 October 1843, William Hamilton and his wife Helen were walking along the banks of the Royal Canal from Dunsink Observatory to the Royal Irish Academy where he was President.

At Broome Bridge Hamilton had that very rare occurrence in science, a Eureka moment. He suddenly hit on the solution to a problem he had been working on for a long time and in his excitement, he took out his penknife and scratched his formula for Quaternion algebra onto the bridge: i² = j² = k² = ijk = −1 


Hamilton's contribution to our lives today

Quaternions are an extension of complex numbers and make it possible to understand the rotation of a 3D object in space and have had wide ranging implications for modern technology.

They can be found in simple everyday objects, from the rotation of your mobile phone’s screen to Quantum mechanics, computer gaming animation, CGI in movies and were instrumental in putting the first man on the moon.


Hamilton's Legacy

Ireland’s scientific and mathematic tradition underpins our economy. Over the last 50 years, it has transformed to become dynamic, innovative, high-tech and has digital at its core. 

As this transformation continues at pace, so too will the need for people to have advanced digital and numerical literacy skills. Ibec is committed to promoting STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) education to encourage people to consider STEM related careers but also because we recognise STEM’s key role in safeguarding Ireland’s economic future. 

Ibec is delighted to partner with the Royal Irish Academy on Hamilton Day to promote the lasting legacy of an Irish man who made a seminal contribution to the world around us today.


Hamilton Day

Though Hamilton Day falls on the 16th October, the day in 1843 when Hamilton discovered quaternion algebra, celebrations to mark the event this year will take place on Friday 15th October.

The day involves a Hamilton Prize Ceremony to recognise the most gifted third-level mathematics students in Ireland. The students will also be rewarded with a Masterclass by Professor Caroline Series, Emeritus Professor of Mathematics at the University of Warwick, a roundtable discussion chaired by Dr Aoibheann Ní Shúilleabháin, followed by Professor Caroline Series in Conversation with Dr Aoibheann Ní Shúilleabháin.

Finally, Caroline Series will present the Hamilton Lecture 2021 at Trinity College Dublin.


Hamilton Lecture 2021: ‘Glimpses into Hyperbolic geometry’

Caroline Series FRS, Emeritus Professor of Mathematics at the University of Warwick will present the 2021 Hamilton Lecture on 15 October 19:00-20:30.

Hyperbolic geometry occurs when the angles in a triangle sum to less than two right angles. It has gradually ascended into the mainstream of mathematics over the last four decades, and this lecture will offer expert insights into these developments.

Following the lecture, a 30-minute Q&A session will take place. This will be chaired by Professor of Mathematics at Queen’s University Belfast Martin Mathieu, MRIA.

The virtual event is free to attend, and you can register your attendance here.

Register here

IIllustration and Design: Lily Gaertner. “Hamilton Did It!” Copy writing: Jake Skelly. BA Design Visual Communication Programme, TU Dublin School of Creative Arts.