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Mathematics at TCD 1592-1992

years of
by T. D. Spearman

1900 TO 1950

Charles Joly, who was Professor of Astronomy from 1897 until he died of typhoid in 1906, was another of the many mathematicians to hold that chair. He and P.G. Tait from Edinburgh were two of the main proponents of quaternions; Joly produced a new 2-volume edition of Hamilton's Elements of Quaternions. Joly's successor at Dunsink, E.T. Whittaker, was a mathematician of considerable distinction. He came to Dublin from Cambridge where his students had included Hardy, Littlewood, Jeans, Eddington, G.N. Watson and G.I. Taylor. Whittaker's interests spanned pure and applied mathematics: with G.N. Watson he wrote a celebrated treatise on Modern Analysis, he also wrote an important book on Analytical Dynamics and A History of the Theories of the Aether and Electricity. Whittaker combined his work in mathematics with his responsibilities as Andrews Professor and Royal Astronomer until he left Dublin to take up the Chair of Mathematics at Edinburgh in 1912.

J.L. Synge, the most distinguished Irish mathematician of his generation, graduated in 1919 and was elected both to Fellowship and to the University Chair of Natural Philosophy in 1925. Synge was an applied mathematician of great originality and versatility. Relativity became a central interest for him and his two books on the Special Theory and the General Theory, in which his geometric approach brought clarity and new insight to the subject, are still recognized as classics. Synge's love of geometry and his ability to apply it in physics is in the tradition established by Mac Cullagh; his interest in Hamilton, particularly as editor (with A.W. Conway) of the collected works on optics, was another strong formative influence.

Synge left Dublin for the University of Toronto in 1930 but returned as Senior Professor in the Institute for Advanced Studies in 1948 and still lives in Dublin.

Synge began a process of revision of the curriculum in applied mathematics but it was his successor, A.J. McConnell, who brought this process to fruition establishing an up-to-date course encompassing classical rigid-body and fluid dynamics, electro-dynamics, quantum mechanics and relativity. McConnell held the Chair of Natural Philosophy until he became Provost in 1952. The corresponding revision of the pure mathematical side of the course was due to C.H. Rowe who became Professor of Mathematics in 1926. In particular Rowe introduced analysis in its modern sense, a careful and rigorous approach to the calculus. Rowe died in 1944 and was succeeded by T.S. Broderick, who had been the Donegall Lecturer.

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