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Mathematical Treasure: Peter Tait’s Quaternions

Frank J. Swetz (The Pennsylvania State University)

Peter Guthrie Tait (1831-1901) was a Scottish mathematician who did much of his work in mathematical physics. Tait eventually became a Professor at the University of Edinburgh. He was a close colleague and friend of James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879) and William Rowan Hamilton (1805-1865). He was attracted to Hamilton’s theory of quaternions and, with Hamilton’s encouragement, extended and refined the theory of quaternions. He published his work in 1867 as An Elementary Treatise on Quaternions.

In the beginning of his book, Tait provided a brief history of \(\sqrt{-1}.\) Pages 1-5 are shown below.

These images were obtained through the courtesy of the Columbia University Libraries.

Index to Mathematical Treasures

Frank J. Swetz (The Pennsylvania State University), "Mathematical Treasure: Peter Tait’s Quaternions," Convergence (June 2017)