Arthur W. Conway

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Arthur William Conway FRS[1] (2 October 1875 – 11 July 1950) was a distinguished Irish mathematician and mathematical physicist who wrote one of the first books on relativity and co-edited two volumes of William Rowan Hamilton's collected works. He also served as President of University College Dublin between 1940 and 1947.[2]

Life and career[edit]

Memorial plaque in Wexford town

Born in Wexford, he received his early education in St Peter's College, Wexford and proceeded to enter old University College, Dublin in 1892. He received his BA degree from the Royal University of Ireland in 1896 with honours in Latin, English, Mathematics and Natural Philosophy. In 1897, he received his MA degree with highest honours in mathematics and proceeded to Corpus Christi College, Oxford, becoming University Scholar there in 1898, and studying under Augustus Love.[2] Also in 1901, he was appointed to the professorship of Mathematical Physics in the old University College and held the Chair until the creation of the new college in 1909. He also taught for a short time at St. Patrick's College, Maynooth.

He married Agnes Christina Bingham on 19 August 1903; they had three daughters and one son.[2]

Conway (front row 5th from left) and Valera (4th from left) at Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies in 1942

One of Conway's students was Éamon de Valera, whom he introduced to Hamilton's quaternions.[2] De Valera warmed to the subject and engaged in research of this novelty of abstract algebra. Later, when de Valera became Taoiseach (he was also subsequently President of Ireland), he called upon Conway while forming the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies.[3]

Conway's earliest publications, dating back to 1903, were on the electromagnetic theory. He is remembered for his application of biquaternion algebra to the special theory of relativity, and in 1915 published a 43-page tract "Relativity" in Edinburgh. He published an article[4] in 1911, and in 1912 asserted priority over Ludwik Silberstein, who also applied biquaternions to relativity.[5] This claim was backed up by George Temple in his book 100 Years of Mathematics.[6] In 1947 Conway put quaternions to use with rotations in hyperbolic space.[7] The next year he published quantum mechanics applications[8] which were referred to in a PhD thesis[9] by J. Lambek in 1950.

In 1918, he was the Irish Parliamentary Party candidate in South Londonderry and in the National University of Ireland, coming second in both.[citation needed]

Arthur Conway continued his scholarship in the fields of mathematics and theoretical physics, and made a special study of William Rowan Hamilton. With J. L. Synge, he edited the first volume of Hamilton's mathematical papers[10] and with A. J. McConnell he edited the second volume of Hamilton's mathematical papers.[11] Conway was also active in college life, being appointed Registrar, a position he occupied until his election as president in 1940.[12] He retired in 1947 from the presidency of UCD. In 1953, some of his writings were edited by J. McConnell for publication by the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies.[13]

He was an Invited Speaker of the ICM in Toronto in 1924,[14] in 1932 in Zurich, and in 1936 in Oslo. He was elected President of the Royal Irish Academy from 1937 to 1940.

In October 1975, to mark the centenary of his birth, UCD hosted the AC Conway Memorial Mathematical Symposium. Speakers included Roger Penrose, Ian Sneddon, and William B. Bonnor.

In his obituary, E.T. Whittaker referred to Conway as the "most distinguished Irish Catholic man of science of his generation."[15]


  • 1915: Relativity, G. Bell & Sons (Edinburgh Mathematical Tracts No. 3) via Internet Archive
  • 1931: The Mathematical Papers of Sir William Rowan Hamilton: Volume 1, Geometrical Optics, Cambridge (edited with J L Synge)
  • 1940: The Mathematical Papers of Sir William Rowan Hamilton: Volume 2, Dynamics, Cambridge (edited with J L Synge)


  1. ^ Whittaker, E. T. (1951). "Arthur William Conway. 1875–1950". Obituary Notices of Fellows of the Royal Society. 7 (20): 328–340. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1951.0004.
  2. ^ a b c d O'Connor, John J.; Robertson, Edmund F., "Arthur W. Conway", MacTutor History of Mathematics archive, University of St Andrews
  3. ^ De Valera School of Mathematics and Statistics University of St Andrews, Scotland
  4. ^ Arthur W. Conway (1911) "On the application of quaternions to some recent developments in electrical theory", Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy 29 A:1–9
  5. ^ A.W. Conway (1912) "The quaternionic form of relativity", Philosophical Magazine (6) 24:208
  6. ^ George Temple (1981) 100 Years of Mathematics: a personal viewpoint, §6.6 "Quaternions in Relativity Theory", page 51, Springer-Verlag ISBN 0-387-91192-8
  7. ^ A.W. Conway (1947) "Applicationsof quaternions to rotations in hyperbolic space", Proceedings of the Royal Society A 191:137–45
  8. ^ A.W. Conway (1948) "Quaternions and quantum mechanics" Pontificia Academia Scientiarum, Acta Vol. XII-N.23, 1948
  9. ^ J. Lambek (1950) "Biquaternion vector fields over Minkowski space", PhD thesis, April 1950
  10. ^ Conway, A. W.; Synge, J. L. (9 March 1929). "Letter to the Editor: Hamilton's Contributions to Geometrical Optics". Nature. 123: 349. Bibcode:1929Natur.123..349C. doi:10.1038/123349c0.
  11. ^ Bourgin, D. G. (1942). "Review: The Mathematical Papers of Sir William Rowan Hamilton, Vol. II". Bull. Amer. Math. Soc. 48 (11): 813–818. doi:10.1090/s0002-9904-1942-07796-2.
  12. ^ "Arthur W. Conway". UCD Archives. Archived from the original on 25 August 2006. Retrieved 29 August 2006.
  13. ^ J. McConnell (1953) Selected Papers of Arthur William Conway, Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies.
  14. ^ Conway, A. W. "The mathematical works of Sir W. R. Hamilton". In: Proceedings of the International Congress of Mathematicians in Toronto, August 11–16. 1924. vol. 2. p. 984. |volume= has extra text (help)
  15. ^ Whittaker, E. T. (1951). "Arthur William Conway. 1875–1950", 329.