Person: Kirkman, Thomas Penyngton
Thomas Kirkman wrote on the theory of groups and his writings are the first systematic account of the elements of group theory in English. He also made many contributions to combinatorics.
Mathematical Profile (Excerpt):
- Thomas attended the grammar school in Bolton where he was taught Greek and Latin but no mathematics.
- As a graduate of Dublin University, Kirkman was naturally interested when Hamilton published his work on quaternions.
- Kirkman's interest in mathematics was rapidly increasing and his first paper was presented in 1846 when he was 40 years old.
- This work of Kirkman appeared in the Cambridge and Dublin Mathematical Journal.
- Despite Kirkman's clear priority, we call such systems today 'Steiner systems' and not 'Kirkman systems'.
- Kirkman then investigated generalisations of the quaternions.
- Kirkman is best known for the Fifteen Schoolgirls Problem.
- Cayley published a solution first, then Kirkman published his own solution, which of course he knew before asking the question.
- Sylvester also studied aspects of this problem and later disputed with Kirkman on who had thought of it first.
- From 1853 Kirkman began a large piece of work on the enumeration of polyhedra, publishing many major papers in the Royal Society.
- Kirkman became a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1857, mainly for this work on polyhedra which had been communicated to the Royal Society by Cayley.
- On seeing that the Académie des Sciences of Paris were awarding a prize for the study of 'group theory' in 1860, Kirkman decided to enter.
- Kirkman continued to work on group theory, his last paper on the subject being The complete theory of groups (1863).
- Kirkman also planned to enter for the Grand Prix of the Académie des Sciences of 1861 on the topic of polyhedra.
- Again disappointed, Kirkman blamed Cayley and wrote to John Herschel suggesting Cayley wanted to prevent publication because he had a paper of his own on polyhedra.
- Kirkman continued to work on combinatorial questions.
- Kirkman continued to study mathematics until his 89th year sending questions and solutions to the Educational Times up to a few months before his death.
Born 31 March 1806, Bolton (near Manchester), England. Died 4 February 1895, Bowdon (near Manchester), England.
View full biography at MacTutor
Tags relevant for this person:
Group Theory, Knot Theory, Origin England, Physics, Puzzles And Problems
Adapted from other CC BY-SA 4.0 Sources:
- O’Connor, John J; Robertson, Edmund F: MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive