This week is Maths Week in Ireland, an annual celebration of mathematics designed to promote a positive attitude to maths among schoolchildren and adults. All sorts of events are taking place at Universities, Institutes of Technology, museums and schools throughout the country. There are public lectures on topics like maths and magic, the maths in your ipod , statistics in real life, and probability in practice. (Yours truly was down to give a talk on the maths of the LHC experiments, but it didn’t draw a big enough audience…I guess the maths of particle physics isn’t riveting for everyone, I should have chosen a more obvious application of maths in everyday life).
William Rowan Hamilton was undoubtably the greatest mathematical genius Ireland has produced – and possibly one of the greatest mathematicians ever. He made many contributions to maths and physics, in optics, dynamics and algebra, but is probably best known in mathematics as the inventor of quaternions. In theoretical physics, his best known (and constantly used) work is of course the Hamiltonian operator – the operator used for energy in quantum physics. As a consequence, the Hamiltonian appears hundreds of times in every textbook on quantum physics!
William Rowan Hamilton: Irish genius
The Hamilton walk, led by Dr. Fiacre O Cairbre of NUI Maynooth, will follow the footsteps of Hamilton from Dunsink Observatory in Dublin along the Royal Canal to Broombridge. On 16th October 1843, Hamilton saw the equations of quaternions in his mind’s eye while out walking with his wife, and scratched them in the wall of the bridge lest he forget them. The markings are still there, and the walk is re-enacted each year by academic staff, students, schoolchildren and the general public.
Broom Bridge: where the quarternion formula was scratched
For me, the highlight of the week will undoubtably be the Hamilton lecture, given this year by Lisa Randall, the renowned cosmologist and particle physicist who is Professor of physics at Harvard. The title and abstract for the lecture are given below:
Warped Passages: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Universe’s Hidden Dimensions
Do we inhabit a three-dimensional universe floating in a four dimensional space? What if the extra dimensions required by string theory were not curled up and unobservably small, but unfurled and vast, extending forever? Could an invisible universe only a tiny fraction of an inch apart in another dimension explain phenomena that we see today in our world?
These are among the questions that we will consider in this lecture about extra dimensions of space.
Defnitely worth a trip up to Dublin, watch this space!