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Life and Works of Arthur Cayley

William Li

Math 10, Fall 2011 Mr. Pavitch December 12, 2011

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Life and Works of Arthur Cayley Arthur Cayley was born to Henry Cayley and Maria Antonia on August 16 , 1821 at Richmond in Surrey (Crilly 3). Arthur spent his early childhood living in Russia and would occasionally spend summers back in England. His idyllic childhood was spent in great comfort and joy, though often in absence of many friends. His father, part of the 930-man-strong Russia Company, was a merchant who made a living in St. Petersburg. This group of semi-wealthy expatriates was the link to the growing trade between both countries (Crilly 6-7). When Cayley was 10, the family moved to Blackheath, a district in London, so he could begin his formal education under George Potticarys preparatory school at Eliot Place. From an early age, Cayley demonstrated an affinity for mathematics, especially a liking towards arithmetical calculations. Though not indicative of prodigal genius, his love of numbers is certainly pertinent to his character as a whole. One of his teachers at Eliot Place remarked that Cayley would often ask for sums in Long Division to do while the other little boys were at play (Crilly 16). In August 1835, at the age of fourteen, Arthur enrolled in Kings College in London, a private school for the growing wealthy middle class, where his great skill in mathematics became apparent. He was advised to pursue mathematics rather than continue his fathers line of work (Cayley Biography). This became a pivotal moment in Cayleys life. In May 1838, prior to receiving the prestigious Silver Medal for Chemistry, often reserved for scientists and researchers, he was admitted into Trinity College. Henry Cayley was disappointed that his son chose an academic career, rather than following in his footsteps, as did the long line of Cayleys before him. The entire Cayley clan was a class of merchants and businessmen, and, having grown up in this environment, where fathers passed down their occupations to their son, Henry Cayley found it difficult to accept his sons decision. However, he was eventually persuaded to relent, and Arthur Cayley went on to enter Cambridge University (Crilly 26). Cayley would spend the next four years under the tutorage of George Peacock, John Moore Heath, and William Hopkins (Crilly 32-33). Cayley soon rose to the top, quickly, achieving the excellence and prestige that many of his contemporaries, several years his senior, could not. Arthur Cayley graduated as Senior Wrangler, winning a Fellowship, and proceeded to teach. However, the position did not pay well, and needing a means to support his continued studies and research in mathematics, he decided to become a lawyer. Over the course of the next fourteen years, Cayley thrived in the legal profession, but, true to his roots, published over two hundred fifty mathematical

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papers. In 1863, a new position opened up at Cambridge: the Sadleirian professor, whose position description stated that the individual would explain and teach the principles of pure mathematics and to apply himself to the advancement of that science (Cayley Biography). Cayley was appointed. Cayley, after so many years of law and conveyancing, was happy to fully devote his time to the subject he loved more than anything else, eagerly accepting the fact that his position would pay many times less than what he earned as a lawyer (Bell 383). One of Cayleys greatest contributions to the study of linear algebra is perhaps the idea of matrices. Although matrices were not his creation, matrix algebra is the subject most commonly associated with his name. Though James Joseph Sylvester, Cayleys close friend, was the one to coin the term matrix, Arthur Cayleys A Memoir on the Theory of Matrices is what popularized the notation and explained how to do basic arithmetic with matrices. One of the most important theorems he created for this subject is now called the Cayley-Hamilton theorem, which he cooperated with William Hamilton to create. The theorem states that an n x n square matrix A satisfies its own characteristic polynomial, which is defined as

The theorem proposes that

, for example, if


Applying the Cayley-Hamilton theorem, this would mean that

, which is true (Crilly

227-228). Cayley is also known for discovering Cayleys transform, an orthogonal transformation that solves a variant of the Cayley-Hermite problem of use in quantum mechanics (Crilly 471). In the field of geometry, Cayley is known for his work with n-dimensional geometry, where he was able to unify metrical and projective geometry. His work on matrices is invaluable to the foundation for quantum mechanics,

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developed by Werner Heisenberg in 1925. (Bell, 399) Even more important is his joint development of the theory of algebraic invariance, which analyzes functions and groups which are not altered by a transformation under some matrix group, with James Sylvester while they both worked in law (Bell 390392). Today, Cayleys work has spanned into various different fields. For example, in 1998, Sarah Flannery devised the Cayley-Purser algorithm, a public-key cryptography algorithm which boasted to be many times faster than the standard RSA encryption. It was based off the idea that matrix multiplication is non-commutative, something which Cayley outlined, though the algorithm was eventually found to be insecure. Arthur Cayley is without a doubt one of the most impressive pure mathematicians of the nineteenth century. He began from modest and humble beginnings and eventually became well respected in his circle of friends, all extremely successful and accomplished already. His invaluable contributions extend beyond pure mathematics, going into fields such as astronomy and mechanics as well. He is also the most prolific writer of his time, releasing over nine hundred papers in thirteen quarto volumes. His devotion and love for mathematics allowed him to write three hundred papers alone in the fourteen years he worked as a lawyer. Even as his health failed, he continued to review his old works and inspired himself to write down even more new ideas, through the days leading up to his death. Cayley never had a chance to fulfill his dream of founding a research school of mathematics, but his work has nonetheless inspired countless others and his legacy lives on in the influential theorems and ideas he left behind.

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Bibliography Bell, E. T. Men of Mathematics. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1937. Print. Cayley Biography. MacTutor History of Mathematics. Web. 11 Dec. 2011. <> Crilly, A. J. Arthur Cayley: Mathematician Laureate of the Victorian Age. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins UP, 2006. Print.