Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Quaternion Anniversary

170 years ago today, Sir William Rowan Hamilton had the flash of insight on how to extend two-dimensional complex numbers to cover 3- and 4-dimensional space, in the form of quaternions -- in particular the rather sticky problem of how to make their multiplication work reasonably. This occurred while he was walking with his wife along a canal, to an academy meeting in Dublin, Ireland. And to insure that he didn't forget the insight, he famously took a knife and wrote the formula into the stone of Brougham Bridge as he walked underneath it.

This summer I had the good fortune to visit Dublin, and my partner and I took an afternoon to make the hike and find the plaque commemorating Hamilton's discovery. (It's about a 3-hour round-trip walk outside the city, beside the utterly enchanting Royal Canal. Quicker if you have a car, of course, but we do everything on foot.) Eureka!



2 comments:

  1. Too cool! I love sites like that - where the history is RIGHT THERE STARING ATCHA! Very nifty. And a great story, too!

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    1. Yeah, I'm so glad we did that. Really heavenly walk along the canal outside Dublin, too, a great memory!

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