Tuesday, 16 October 2012

On This Day in Math - October 16


I have often pondered over the roles of knowledge or experience, on the one hand, and imagination or intuition, on the other, in the process of discovery. I believe that there is a certain fundamental conflict between the two, and knowledge, by advocating caution, tends to inhibit the flight of imagination. Therefore, a certain naivete, unburdened by conventional wisdom, can sometimes be a positive asset.
~Harish-Chandra

The 290th day of the year, 290 is a sphenic (wedge) number, the product of three distinct primes (290 = 2*5*29). It is also the sum of four consecutive primes (67 + 71 + 73 + 79) [Students might try to construct and examine a list of numbers that can be written as the sum of two or more consecutive primes]

EVENTS

1707 Roger Cotes elected first Plumian Professor of Astronomy and Experimental Philosophy at Cambridge at age 26. He is best known for his meticulous and creative editing of the sec¬ond edition (1713) of Newton’s Principia. He was also an important developer of the integral calculus. *Ronald Gowing, Roger Cotes, Natural Philosopher, p. 14

1797 Gauss records in his diary that he has discovered a new proof of the Pythagorean Theorem. See Gray, Expositiones Mathematicae, 2(1984), 97–130. *VFR

1819  Thomas Young writes to Fresnel to thank him for a copy of his memoirs (sent to Young by Arago). "I return a thousand thanks, Monsieur, for the gift of your admirable memoir, which surely merits a very high rank amongst the papers which have contributed most to the progress of optics." *A history of physics in its elementary branches By Florian Cajori

1843 Hamilton discovered quaternions while walking along the Royal Canal in Dublin and immediately scratches the multiplication formulas on a bridge. Today a plaque on the bridge reads, "Here as he walked by on the 16th of October 1843 Sir William Rowan Hamilton in a flash of genius discovered the fundamental formula for quaternion multiplication i2 = j2 = k2 = ijk = −1 & cut it in a stone on this bridge." Since 1989, the Department of Mathematics of the National University of Ireland, Maynooth has organized a pilgrimage, where scientists (including the physicists Murray Gell-Mann in 2002, Steven Weinberg in 2005, and the mathematician Andrew Wiles in 2003) take a walk from Dunsink Observatory to the Royal Canal bridge where no trace of Hamilton's carving remains, unfortunately.
Here is how Hamilton described his memory of the discovery of the Quaternions to his son, "Every morning in the early part of the above-cited month, on my coming down to breakfast, your (then) little brother, William Edwin, and yourself, used to ask me, `Well, papa, can you multiply triplets?' Whereto I was always obliged to reply, with a sad shake of the head: `No, I can only add and subtract them. But on the 16th day of the same month (Oct) - which happened to be Monday, and a Council day of the Royal Irish Academy - I was walking in to attend and preside, and your mother was walking with me along the Royal Canal, to which she had perhaps driven; and although she talked with me now and then, yet an undercurrent of thought was going on in my mind which gave at last a result, whereof it is not too much to say that I felt at once the importance. An electric circuit seemed to close; and a spark flashed forth the herald (as I foresaw immediately) of many long years to come of definitely directed thought and work by myself, if spared, and, at all events, on the part of others if I should even be allowed to live long enough distinctly to communicate the discovery. Nor could I resist the impulse - unphilosophical as it may have been - to cut with a knife on a stone of Brougham Bridge, as we passed it, the fundamental formula which contains the Solution of the Problem, but, of course, the inscription has long since mouldered away. A more durable notice remains, however, on the Council Books of the Academy for that day (October 16, 1843), which records the fact that I then asked for and obtained leave to read a Paper on `Quaternions,' at the First General Meeting of the Session; which reading took place accordingly, on Monday, the 13th of November following.'' *from Hamilton By Sir Robert Stawell Ball.
*Wik

The plaque says:
Here as he walked by
on the 16th of October 1843
Sir William Rowan Hamilton
in a flash of genius discovered
the fundamental formula for
quaternion multiplication
i2 = j2 = k2 = i j k = −1
& cut it on a stone of this bridge


In 1982, Halley's Comet was observed on its 30th recorded visit to Earth, first detected using the 5-m (200-in) Hale Telescope at the Mount Palomar Observatory by a team of astronomers led by David Jewett and G. Edward Danielson. They found the comet, beyond the orbit of Saturn, about 11 AU (1.6 billion km) from the Sun. While 50 million times fainter than the faintest objects our eyes can see, they needed to use not only the largest American telescope but also special electronic equipment developed for the Space Telescope. In 1705, Halley used Newton's theories to compute the orbit and correctly predicted the return of this comet about every 76 years. After his death, for correctly predicting its reappearance, it was named after Halley. *TIS (The next predicted perihelion of Halley's Comet is 28 July 2061)

1988 Connect Four Solved first by James D. Allen (Oct 1, 1988), and independently by Victor Allis (Oct 16, 1988). First player can force a win. Strongly solved by John Tromp's 8-ply database (Feb 4, 1995). Weakly solved for all boardsizes where width+height is at most 15 (Feb 18, 2006). *Wik


BIRTHS

1879 Philip Edward Bertrand Jourdain (16 October 1879 – 1 October 1919) was a British logician and follower of Bertrand Russell. He corresponded with Georg Cantor and Gottlob Frege, and took a close interest in the paradoxes related to Russell's paradox, formulating the card paradox version of the liar paradox. He also worked on algebraic logic, and the history of science with Isaac Newton as a particular study. He was London editor for The Monist. *Wik

1882 Ernst Erich Jacobsthal (16 October 1882, Berlin – 6 February 1965, Überlingen) was a German mathematician, and brother to the archaeologist Paul Jacobsthal.
In 1906, he earned his PhD at the University of Berlin, where he was a student of Georg Frobenius, Hermann Schwarz and Issai Schur; his dissertation, Anwendung einer Formel aus der Theorie der quadratischen Reste (Application of a Formula from the Theory of Quadratic Remainders), provided a proof that prime numbers of the form 4n + 1 are the sum of two square numbers. *Wik

1930 John Charlton Polkinghorne KBE FRS (born 16 October 1930) is an English theoretical physicist, theologian, writer, and Anglican priest. He was professor of Mathematical physics at the University of Cambridge from 1968 to 1979, when he resigned his chair to study for the priesthood, becoming an ordained Anglican priest in 1982. He served as the president of Queens' College, Cambridge from 1988 until 1996.*Wik


DEATHS

1937 William Sealy Gosset (13 June 1876 in Canterbury, England - 16 Oct 1937 in Beaconsfield, England) invented the t -test to handle small samples for quality control in brewing. He wrote under the name "Student".*SAU

1983 Harish-Chandra (11 October 1923 – 16 October 1983) was an Indian mathematician, who did fundamental work in representation theory, especially Harmonic analysis on semisimple Lie groups.*Wik

1998 Jonathan Bruce Postel (6 Aug 1943, 16 Oct 1998) American computer scientist who played a pivotal role in creating and administering the Internet. In the late 1960s, Postel was a graduate student developing the ARPANET, a forerunner of the Internet for use by the U.S. Dept. of Defense. As director of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), which he formed, Postel was a creator of the Internet's address system. The Internet grew rapidly in the 1990s, and there was concern about its lack of regulation. Shortly before his death, Postel submitted a proposal to the U.S. government for an international nonprofit organization that would oversee the Internet and its assigned names and numbers. He died at age 55, from complications after heart surgery.*TIS


Credits
*CHM=Computer History Museum
*FFF=Kane, Famous First Facts
*NSEC= NASA Solar Eclipse Calendar
*SAU=St Andrews Univ. Math History
*TIA = Today in Astronomy
*TIS= Today in Science History
*VFR = V Frederick Rickey, USMA
*Wik = Wikipedia
*WM = Women of Mathematics, Grinstein & Campbell
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