|William Rowan Hamilton was born in Dublin in 1805. He attended his
uncle's school in Trim, in County Meath, and displayed a prodigious
and precocious talent. He read widely in the classics, learned a
large number of languages, and enjoyed writing verse. It was with
considerable reluctance that he was later to accept the verdict of his
friends, who included Wordsworth and Coleridge, that his greater
talents lay elsewhere than in poetry. At the age of sixteen he was
given a copy of Bartholomew Lloyd's Analytical geometry.
This awakened his interest in mathematics in a decisive way:
`Ill-omened gift! it was the commencement of my present course of
mathematical reading, which has in so great a degree withdrawn my
attention, I may say my affection, from the classics.' His interest
in geometry persisted after he entered the College in 1823. While
still and undergraduate he wrote his first paper Theory of
systems of rays, which was a major piece of work in geometrical
optics. In 1827 Brinkley resigned from the astronomy chair on his
appointment as Bishop of Cloyne, and the Board, with some foresight
and imagination, appointed the young Hamilton, just about to graduate,
in his place.
|Hamilton made contributions of major significance and remarkable
originality in three quite distinct areas. One was in optics, another
was in dynamics, and the third was his discovery of quaternions.
Today every student of mathematics or physics learns about the
Hamiltonian function. The way of looking at dynamics which Hamilton
developed has been a source of insight, as well as a technique of
enormous value, in both classical and quantum dynamics. His original
contributions place him among the great mathematicians and mark him
out as one of Ireland's outstanding scientists.
||The bequest of Provost Andrews provided for the establishment of
Dunsink Observatory and for endowment of the Chair of Astronomy. From
1792 until 1921 the Andrews Professor of Astronomy also held the title
of Royal Astronomer of Ireland. Hamilton held this position, and
lived in the Observatory, from 1827 to 1865.