by T. D. Spearman
Mathematics has always been seen as one of the most challenging and fascinating of intellectual endeavours: it is also recognised as the essential language in terms of which scientific understanding is expressed and as the basis for quantitatively or analytically based action and decision making. It is not surprising that mathematical studies have had a central place in this university throughout the four hundred years of its existence. Through much of the nineteenth century its position was a dominant one and the natural route to fellowship of the college was through mathematical studies. Trinity mathematicians produced work of high distinction and some, of whom William Rowan Hamilton was the most remarkable, achieved international renown. The Trinity Mathematics School today maintains a high standard of excellence in its teaching and its research. its interests now range from pure mathematics, through various areas of applied mathematics to theoretical physics and computing. It is the largest mathematics school in the country and its graduates are to be found throughout Europe and world-wide in universities, other research institutes and in a wide variety of employment.
It thus seems appropriate to include within the Quarter centenary celebration an exhibition on the theme of 400 years of mathematics in Trinity College. The purpose of this exhibition is to commemorate the achievement of the School of Mathematics over 400 years by recounting its history, focussing on some of the major individual mathematicians such as Hamilton, MacCullagh, Lloyd, and Salmon, and their achievements - the discovery of Quaternions by Hamilton, the investigations of the Aether by MacCullagh, the fundamental studies of the nature of light by Humphrey Lloyd, Salmon's work in geometry and abstract algebra - and bringing history up to the present day by describing the current activities and interests of the department. By describing the history of a key academic discipline it will reflect the outlook and academic attitudes of the College as a whole. At the same time it will portray the history of the subject itself through its noted practitioners who worked here, many of whom maintained an impressive range of contact and collaboration with mathematicians throughout Europe, and more recently in the United States.
Many people assisted with this exhibition. I would particularly like to record my thanks to Suzanne Bisset and Tom Weir, to Margaret Lonergan, and to Brendan Dempsey and to Páidrigín Moore.