Sir William Rowan Hamilton

By: Mark Speaker and Veronica Blair

Looking into the Life of Hamilton

Was born in August in 1805 in Dublin Ireland. He grew up in Dublin and died in Dublin. He was the son of a solicitor and was educated by his uncle from the time he was three until he entered college. At five years old he could already understand Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. And by the time he was twelve he had broadened his studies to Sanskrit, Persian, Syriac, French, and Italian. Hamilton only became interested in mathematics after reading the Analytic Geometry by Bartholomew Lloyd when he was 16. He entered the Trinity College in Dublin in 1823. A paper of his on optics was published by the Royal Irish Academy in 1827. While still an undergrad at Trinity College, he was appointed the professor of Astronomy at Trinity and Royal Astronomer of Ireland. Poetry also was an interest of Hamilton and throughout his life he would write poetry. In 1835 he was knighted by the lord lieutenant of Ireland and served as president of the Royal Irish Academy from 1837 to 1846.

The World Around Him

  • The Agricultural Revolution began in the early 1800s and completely changed the way people farmed. It made farming less labor intensive and technologically driven instead. This was the result of the creation of the Combine Harvester and the Tractor.

  • Many different types of technological advancements happened during Hamilton's lifetime. There were so many inventions that helped shaped the world into what it is today. Many of these inventions completely changed how that world worked and are still very important today. Some of these inventions include: the photograph (1814), the typewriter (1829), the mechanical calculator (1835), and the sewing machine (1830).

  • The Civil War also took placed during the last five years of Hamilton’s life. Although it was unlikely he was affected by this because it took place solely in the United States. (1861-1865)

Influential Mathemeticians

  • Zerah Colburn was a Mathematical prodigy during Hamilton’s childhood. In fact, at the age of 15 Hamilton actually had the opportunity to meet this renowned mathematician. Colburn is actually one of the main reasons that Hamilton became interested in math in the first place.

  • Pierre-Simon de Laplace was another famous mathematician during the same era that Hamilton was alive. Hamilton studied all of Laplace’s work intensely after becoming interested in mathematics.

Born in Dublin Ireland on August 4, 1805

Died on September 2, 1865 in Dublin Ireland

His Contributions to Mathematics

Hamilton reshaped theoretical optics by basing it on his law of varying action and his analysis of motion anticipated some of the basic notions of relativity and quantum mechanics. All of his finding helped with the development of optics, dynamics, and algebra. In 1827, his paper "A Theory of Systems of Rays." earned Hamilton praise and leverage in the academic world. His paper proved that a system of light rays filling an area of space can be focused down to a single point by a curved mirror if and only if those light rays are orthogonal to a series of surfaces.He also discovered the algebra of quaternions or the generalization of two dimensional complex number to three dimensions. In 1856 Hamilton investigated closed paths along the edges of a dodecahedron that visit each vertex exactly once. In graph theory such paths are known today as Hamiltonian circuits.

Hamilton Circuit

From his research we can do problems such as Hamilton Circuits, named after the mathematician who developed this. With a Hamilton circuit, there are a set of points and you have to touch every point and return to the original without retouching any points that you have already come into contact with.


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  • "Sir William Rowan Hamilton." Encyclopedia of World Biography. 2nd ed. Vol. 7. Detroit: Gale, 2004. 99-100. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 15 Dec. 2015.

  • "William Rowan Hamilton." Math & Mathematicians: The History of Math Discoveries Around the World. Ed. Leonard C. Bruno. Detroit: UXL, 2008. Student Resources in Context. Web. 15 Dec. 2015.

"What Happened in The1800's." The People History. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Dec. 2015.