Hamilton lecture to focus on power of maths

Lecture by mathematician Cédric Villani to discuss behaviour of mechanical systems

Mathematics can help us see the invisible and imagine the incomprehensible. It can help us in a theoretical sense but also in everyday practical things, says mathematician Cédric Villani.

Prof Villani is in Dublin today to deliver the annual Hamilton Day lecture, which celebrates the life of Ireland's greatest scientist and mathematician, William Rowan Hamilton.

The power of maths is central to Prof Villani’s main areas of research, focusing on partial differential equations and mathematical physics. “Thinking the inaccessible – large time behaviours, from infinitely small to infinitely large to infinitely long” is the title of his talk.

“In this lecture I shall explain some work, by me and others, on the general problem of long-time behaviour of mechanical systems,” he explains. “This will be an opportunity to elaborate on the power of mathematics to access otherwise inaccessible scales.”


It is a reflection of his own research where he studies the long-term behaviour and stability of large-scale systems, for example what the future holds for a galaxy or the vast clouds of gas that are found across the universe.

Trying to understand the future of our solar system was a matter of some importance to 17th-century scholars, said Prof Villani. “They wanted to know if it would remain stable or would there be a catastrophe in a thousand years, a million years or a billion.

“This work triggered many developments both theoretical and practical. Nowadays questions like this are the questions I work with, the long-term behaviour of a galaxy, will it remain stable or how will it change over time.”

Prof Villani won a Fields Medal in 2010, an award considered comparable to winning a Nobel Prize. He is a professor at Lyon University and is the director of the Institut Henri Poincaré.

The Hamilton Day lecture is organised by the Royal Irish Academy and is supported by Arup and by The Irish Times. No places remain for his lecture but a waiting list has been set up on the Academy's website ria.ie

October 16th marks the day in 1843 when Hamilton (1805-1865) invented a new form of algebra called Quaternions.

Dick Ahlstrom

Dick Ahlstrom

Dick Ahlstrom, a contributor to The Irish Times, is the newspaper's former Science Editor.