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Updated November 15, 2020

Life and Discoveries of William Rowan Hamilton

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Life and Discoveries of William Rowan Hamilton essay
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Sir William Rowan Hamilton was a very well known scientist who was born in Ireland. His specialties were in astronomy, physics, and mathematics. His expertise in mathematics was very helpful when he had contributed to the dynamics and geometry side of math. These skills had influenced many upcoming scientists and mathematicians because his skills were mainly used for “the fundamental concepts used in quantum mechanics” (Editors, TheFamousPeople.com) one of his well-known discoveries was ‘algebra of quaternions’, this was a way to inform scientists on how to figure out three-dimensional geometry. Since a young age, Hamilton has been a very intelligent and very creative individual. He had acquired these traits from his parents but mainly his mother was the main influencer. Most of Hamilton’s childhood was spent with his uncle who had been his role model and his teacher of many languages. From all the language exposure Hamilton had gotten from his uncle, he became a linguist of 15 languages at the age of 13.

In addition, Hamilton had become really interested in mathematics and started to study more about physics and geometry. Once he had turned 18, he enrolled in a mathematics-based school in Dublin at the ‘Trinity College’. In all his time there he had been the top of his class and excelled in every subjects’ examinations. After college, he wanted to study more in the mathematics field and by doing this he started to develop an easier and better way of studying ‘quantum mathematics and electromagnetism’. At the end of his life he had been studying “Elements of Quaternions” which took about 6 years of his life and after he had suffered from gout. Gout is a disease which defects the metabolism of acid which causes arthritis, mostly in the smaller bones of the feet.

Hamilton had very soon mastered a multitude of languages but at the age of 12 when he met the American Zerah Colburn. Colburn could perform amazing mental arithmetic feats and Hamilton joined in competitions of arithmetical ability with him. It appears that losing to Colburn sparked Hamilton’s interest in mathematics.

Hamilton’s introduction to mathematics came at the age of 13 when he studied Clairaut’s Algebra, a task made somewhat easier as Hamilton was fluent in French by this time. At age 15 he started studying the works of Newton and Laplace. In 1822 Hamilton found an error in Laplace’s Mécanique céleste and, as a result of this, he came to the attention of John Brinkley, the Royal Astronomer of Ireland, who said:

“This young man, I do not say will be, but is, the first mathematician of his age.”

Hamilton entered Trinity College, Dublin at the age of 18 and in his first year he obtained an ‘optime’ in Classics, a distinction only awarded once in 20 years.

Throughout his life, Hamilton discovered new characteristics of the optical system and developed different methods to figure out the three function system. Some of the function of these methods depends on the Cartesian coordinates of two points and the different measures of light to be able to travel through the different factors of the system. In this function, the properties of the system can be gathered. As Hamilton was using his methods in 1832 in studying the factors of light, the speed of that light is only dependent on the direction of the ray, he had predicted that if one ray of light proceeds at a certain angle, then he found out that the light ray will be formed into a hollow cone.

In 1834 and 1848, Hamilton was awarded the “Cunningham Medal of the Royal Irish Academy”. This award was for is the Academy’s main award that has been given out since the late 1700s. This award is given out every three years to an individual that demonstrates “outstanding contributions to scholarship and the objectives of the Academy” (THE ROYAL IRISH ACADEMY 2019). Around 1835, Hamilton had become the academy’s president. He also elected a member of the “Saint Petersburg Academy of Sciences”. In 1834 and 1835 Hamilton had written and published two papers; they were based on “A General Method in Dynamics”. These papers were about him finding equations to figure out the motion system in dynamics.

Hamiltons’ idea was then changed by; Carl Jacobi: a German Mathematician. As Jacobi was done tweaking his idea, the equations helped in the discovery of celestial mechanics and quantum mechanics. Also in 1835, lord lieutenant of Ireland had knighted Hamilton after a meeting in Dublin for the Advancement of Science. He was selected as “Foreign Associate of the American National Academy of Sciences” in 1865. Being voted for this position, the members of the society vote for someone that shows excellence in the sciences and it is for citizens who are not residents of the United States. This science academy has over 300 foreign members and about 1,800 U.S. members and still active. He had published his own book in 1866 called “Elements of Quaternions” and is very well known by many scientists.

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