Irish mathematician Hamilton celebrated in Broombridge artwork

William Rowan Hamilton scratched his equation on north Dublin bridge in 1843

RIA president Prof Peter Kennedy, Minister for Finance Paschal Donohue and artist Emma Ray at the unveiling of the Hamilton artwork. Photograph: Peter Gallagher/Twitter.

RIA president Prof Peter Kennedy, Minister for Finance Paschal Donohue and artist Emma Ray at the unveiling of the Hamilton artwork. Photograph: Peter Gallagher/Twitter.

 

Most graffiti does not stand the test of time but one ‘Eureka moment’ 176 years ago, when an equation was scratched on a bridge in North Dublin, proves the exception. What’s more, the mathematical equation, written using a penknife by the noted Irish mathematician William Rowan Hamilton, is set to be preserved for many years to come – thanks to the latest work of tattoo artist Emma Ray.

Well-known local and Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe unveiled the work on Wednesday, on what is Hamilton Day, at Broombridge Luas stop. It celebrates that 176-year-old act of graffiti.

On October 16th, 1843, Hamilton and his wife Helen were walking along the banks of the Royal Canal from Dunsink Observatory to the Royal Irish Academy (RIA) where he was president.

At Broome Bridge, he had that very rare occurrence in science, a Eureka moment. He suddenly alighted on the solution to a problem he had been working on for a long time and in his excitement, he scratched his formula for Quaternion algebra onto the bridge; i² = j² = k² = ijk = -1.

Quaternions would later be instrumental in putting the first man on the moon and be used for computer-generated imagery in movies.

In 2018, the RIA, Transport Infrastructure Ireland and the National Transport Authority decided to mark this important moment in world science by commissioning an artwork for the Luas stop through a competition open to students, staff and alumni of the nearby TU Dublin School of Creative Arts. Ms Ray, a former DIT fine art student who is based in Dundalk, Co Louth, won the commission.

“We in Cabra have always had great pride in the story of William Rowan Hamilton’s Eureka moment. This stop is fondly referred to by locals as the ‘Luas Hamilton’ so it is wonderful to launch this artwork by Emma Ray today,” Mr Donohoe said.

“The artwork is the story of his walk on October 16th, 1843 and how the answer came to him in a flash and probably when he least expected it,” RIA president Prof Peter Kennedy said.

“Dublin and especially Cabra should be proud of William Rowan Hamilton. We want this artwork to inspire the next generation. Dublin needs new Hamiltons,” Prof Kennedy said.