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James Joseph Sylvester

James Joseph Sylvester

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James Joseph Sylvester was an English
England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 mathematician
Mathematician
A mathematician is a person whose primary area of study is the field of mathematics. Mathematicians are concerned with quantity, structure, space, and change....

. He made fundamental contributions to matrix theory, invariant theory
Invariant theory
Invariant theory is a branch of abstract algebra dealing with actions of groups on algebraic varieties from the point of view of their effect on functions...

, number theory
Number theory
Number theory is a branch of pure mathematics devoted primarily to the study of the integers. Number theorists study prime numbers as well...

, partition theory and combinatorics
Combinatorics
Combinatorics is a branch of mathematics concerning the study of finite or countable discrete structures. Aspects of combinatorics include counting the structures of a given kind and size , deciding when certain criteria can be met, and constructing and analyzing objects meeting the criteria ,...

. He played a leadership role in American mathematics in the later half of the 19th century as a professor at the Johns Hopkins University
Johns Hopkins University
The Johns Hopkins University, commonly referred to as Johns Hopkins, JHU, or simply Hopkins, is a private research university based in Baltimore, Maryland, United States...

 and as founder of the American Journal of Mathematics
American Journal of Mathematics
The American Journal of Mathematics is a bimonthly mathematics journal published by the Johns Hopkins University Press.- History :The American Journal of Mathematics is the oldest continuously-published mathematical journal in the United States, established in 1878 at the Johns Hopkins University...

. At his death, he was professor at Oxford.

Biography


Sylvester was born James Joseph in London
London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

, England
England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

. His father, Abraham Joseph, was a merchant. James adopted the surname Sylvester when his older brother did so upon emigration to the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

—a country which at that time required all immigrants to have a given name, a middle name, and a surname
Surname
A surname is a name added to a given name and is part of a personal name. In many cases, a surname is a family name. Many dictionaries define "surname" as a synonym of "family name"...

. At the age of 14, Sylvester started attending the University of London
University of London
-20th century:Shortly after 6 Burlington Gardens was vacated, the University went through a period of rapid expansion. Bedford College, Royal Holloway and the London School of Economics all joined in 1900, Regent's Park College, which had affiliated in 1841 became an official divinity school of the...

, where he was a student of Augustus De Morgan
Augustus De Morgan
Augustus De Morgan was a British mathematician and logician. He formulated De Morgan's laws and introduced the term mathematical induction, making its idea rigorous. The crater De Morgan on the Moon is named after him....

. His family withdrew him from the University after he was accused of stabbing a fellow student with a knife. Following this, he attended the Liverpool Royal Institution
Liverpool Royal Institution
The Liverpool Royal Institution was a learned society set up in 1814 for "the Promotion of Literature, Science and the Arts". William Corrie, William Rathbone IV and William Roscoe were among the founders. A royal charter was granted in 1821. The institute purchased a building on Colquitt Street...

.

Sylvester began his study of mathematics
Mathematics
Mathematics is the study of quantity, space, structure, and change. Mathematicians seek out patterns and formulate new conjectures. Mathematicians resolve the truth or falsity of conjectures by mathematical proofs, which are arguments sufficient to convince other mathematicians of their validity...

 at St John's College
St John's College, Cambridge
St John's College is a constituent college of the University of Cambridge. The college's alumni include nine Nobel Prize winners, six Prime Ministers, three archbishops, at least two princes, and three Saints....

, Cambridge
Cambridge
The city of Cambridge is a university town and the administrative centre of the county of Cambridgeshire, England. It lies in East Anglia about north of London. Cambridge is at the heart of the high-technology centre known as Silicon Fen – a play on Silicon Valley and the fens surrounding the...

 in 1831, where his tutor was John Hymers
John Hymers
John Hymers , mathematician, was born at Ormesby, near Middlesbrough, Yorkshire, the son of Thomas Hymers, a tenant farmer under Sir James Pennymon, and his wife, the daughter of John Parrington, rector of Skelton-in-Cleveland, England.- Education :After attending schools at Witton-le-Wear and...

. Although his studies were interrupted for almost two years due to a prolonged illness, he nevertheless ranked second in Cambridge's famous mathematical examination, the tripos
Tripos
The University of Cambridge, England, divides the different kinds of honours bachelor's degree by Tripos , plural Triposes. The word has an obscure etymology, but may be traced to the three-legged stool candidates once used to sit on when taking oral examinations...

, for which he sat in 1837. However, Sylvester was not issued a degree, because graduates at that time were required to state their acceptance of the Thirty-Nine Articles
Thirty-Nine Articles
The Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion are the historically defining statements of doctrines of the Anglican church with respect to the controversies of the English Reformation. First established in 1563, the articles served to define the doctrine of the nascent Church of England as it related to...

 of the Church of England
Church of England
The Church of England is the officially established Christian church in England and the Mother Church of the worldwide Anglican Communion. The church considers itself within the tradition of Western Christianity and dates its formal establishment principally to the mission to England by St...

, and Sylvester - who was of Jewish origin - refused to do so. For the same reason, he was unable to compete for a Fellowship or obtain a Smith's prize
Smith's Prize
The Smith's Prize was the name of each of two prizes awarded annually to two research students in theoretical Physics, mathematics and applied mathematics at the University of Cambridge, Cambridge, England.- History :...

. In 1838 Sylvester became professor of natural philosophy at University College London
University College London
University College London is a public research university located in London, United Kingdom and the oldest and largest constituent college of the federal University of London...

. In 1841, he was awarded a BA
Bachelor of Arts
A Bachelor of Arts , from the Latin artium baccalaureus, is a bachelor's degree awarded for an undergraduate course or program in either the liberal arts, the sciences, or both...

 and an MA
Master's degree
A master's is an academic degree granted to individuals who have undergone study demonstrating a mastery or high-order overview of a specific field of study or area of professional practice...

 by Trinity College, Dublin
Trinity College, Dublin
Trinity College, Dublin , formally known as the College of the Holy and Undivided Trinity of Queen Elizabeth near Dublin, was founded in 1592 by letters patent from Queen Elizabeth I as the "mother of a university", Extracts from Letters Patent of Elizabeth I, 1592: "...we...found and...

. In the same year he moved to the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 to become a professor at the University of Virginia
University of Virginia
The University of Virginia is a public research university located in Charlottesville, Virginia, United States, founded by Thomas Jefferson...

 for about six months, and returned to England
England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 in November 1843.

On his return to England he studied law, alongside fellow British lawyer/mathematician Arthur Cayley
Arthur Cayley
Arthur Cayley F.R.S. was a British mathematician. He helped found the modern British school of pure mathematics....

, with whom he made significant contributions to matrix theory while working as an actuary
Actuary
An actuary is a business professional who deals with the financial impact of risk and uncertainty. Actuaries provide expert assessments of financial security systems, with a focus on their complexity, their mathematics, and their mechanisms ....

. One of his private pupils was Florence Nightingale
Florence Nightingale
Florence Nightingale OM, RRC was a celebrated English nurse, writer and statistician. She came to prominence for her pioneering work in nursing during the Crimean War, where she tended to wounded soldiers. She was dubbed "The Lady with the Lamp" after her habit of making rounds at night...

. He did not obtain a position teaching university mathematics until 1855, when he was appointed professor of mathematics at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, from which he retired in 1869, because the compulsory retirement age was 55. The Woolwich academy initially refused to pay Sylvester his full pension, and only relented after a prolonged public controversy, during which Sylvester took his case to the letters page of The Times
The Times
The Times is a British daily national newspaper, first published in London in 1785 under the title The Daily Universal Register . The Times and its sister paper The Sunday Times are published by Times Newspapers Limited, a subsidiary since 1981 of News International...

.

One of Sylvester's lifelong passions was for poetry
Poetry
Poetry is a form of literary art in which language is used for its aesthetic and evocative qualities in addition to, or in lieu of, its apparent meaning...

; he read and translated works from the original French
French language
French is a Romance language spoken as a first language in France, the Romandy region in Switzerland, Wallonia and Brussels in Belgium, Monaco, the regions of Quebec and Acadia in Canada, and by various communities elsewhere. Second-language speakers of French are distributed throughout many parts...

, German
German language
German is a West Germanic language, related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90 – 98 million native speakers, German is one of the world's major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union....

, Italian
Italian language
Italian is a Romance language spoken mainly in Europe: Italy, Switzerland, San Marino, Vatican City, by minorities in Malta, Monaco, Croatia, Slovenia, France, Libya, Eritrea, and Somalia, and by immigrant communities in the Americas and Australia...

, Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

 and Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

, and many of his mathematical papers contain illustrative quotes from classical poetry. Following his early retirement, published a book entitled The Laws of Verse in which he attempted to codify a set of laws for prosody in poetry.

In 1877 Sylvester again crossed the Atlantic Ocean
Atlantic Ocean
The Atlantic Ocean is the second-largest of the world's oceanic divisions. With a total area of about , it covers approximately 20% of the Earth's surface and about 26% of its water surface area...

 to become the inaugural professor of mathematics at the new Johns Hopkins University
Johns Hopkins University
The Johns Hopkins University, commonly referred to as Johns Hopkins, JHU, or simply Hopkins, is a private research university based in Baltimore, Maryland, United States...

 in Baltimore, Maryland. His salary was $5,000 (quite generous for the time), which he demanded be paid in gold
Gold
Gold is a chemical element with the symbol Au and an atomic number of 79. Gold is a dense, soft, shiny, malleable and ductile metal. Pure gold has a bright yellow color and luster traditionally considered attractive, which it maintains without oxidizing in air or water. Chemically, gold is a...

. In 1878 he founded the American Journal of Mathematics
American Journal of Mathematics
The American Journal of Mathematics is a bimonthly mathematics journal published by the Johns Hopkins University Press.- History :The American Journal of Mathematics is the oldest continuously-published mathematical journal in the United States, established in 1878 at the Johns Hopkins University...

. The only other mathematical journal in the U.S. at that time was the Analyst, which eventually became the Annals of Mathematics
Annals of Mathematics
The Annals of Mathematics is a bimonthly mathematical journal published by Princeton University and the Institute for Advanced Study. It ranks amongst the most prestigious mathematics journals in the world by criteria such as impact factor.-History:The journal began as The Analyst in 1874 and was...

.

In 1883, he returned to England to take up the Savilian Professor of Geometry at Oxford University. He held this chair until his death, although in 1892 the University appointed a deputy professor to the same chair.

Sylvester invented a great number of mathematical terms such as discriminant
Discriminant
In algebra, the discriminant of a polynomial is an expression which gives information about the nature of the polynomial's roots. For example, the discriminant of the quadratic polynomialax^2+bx+c\,is\Delta = \,b^2-4ac....

. He has given a name to Euler's totient function
Euler's totient function
In number theory, the totient \varphi of a positive integer n is defined to be the number of positive integers less than or equal to n that are coprime to n In number theory, the totient \varphi(n) of a positive integer n is defined to be the number of positive integers less than or equal to n that...

 φ(n). His collected scientific work fills four volumes. In 1880, the Royal Society of London
Royal Society
The Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, known simply as the Royal Society, is a learned society for science, and is possibly the oldest such society in existence. Founded in November 1660, it was granted a Royal Charter by King Charles II as the "Royal Society of London"...

 awarded Sylvester the Copley Medal
Copley Medal
The Copley Medal is an award given by the Royal Society of London for "outstanding achievements in research in any branch of science, and alternates between the physical sciences and the biological sciences"...

, its highest award for scientific achievement; in 1901, it instituted the Sylvester Medal
Sylvester Medal
The Sylvester Medal is a bronze medal awarded by the Royal Society for the encouragement of mathematical research, and accompanied by a £1,000 prize...

 in his memory, to encourage mathematical research after his death in Oxford
Oxford
The city of Oxford is the county town of Oxfordshire, England. The city, made prominent by its medieval university, has a population of just under 165,000, with 153,900 living within the district boundary. It lies about 50 miles north-west of London. The rivers Cherwell and Thames run through...

, Oxfordshire
Oxfordshire
Oxfordshire is a county in the South East region of England, bordering on Warwickshire and Northamptonshire , Buckinghamshire , Berkshire , Wiltshire and Gloucestershire ....

, England
England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

.

Sylvester House, a portion of an undergraduate dormitory at Mason Cleveland
Johns Hopkins University
The Johns Hopkins University, commonly referred to as Johns Hopkins, JHU, or simply Hopkins, is a private research university based in Baltimore, Maryland, United States...

, is named in his honour.

See also

  • Chebyshev–Sylvester constant
    Prime number theorem
    In number theory, the prime number theorem describes the asymptotic distribution of the prime numbers. The prime number theorem gives a general description of how the primes are distributed amongst the positive integers....

  • Coin problem
    Coin problem
    The coin problem is a mathematical problem that asks what is the largest monetary amount that cannot be obtained using only coins of specified denominations. For example, the largest amount that cannot be obtained using only coins of 3 and 5 units is 7 units...

  • Greedy algorithm for Egyptian fractions
    Greedy algorithm for Egyptian fractions
    In mathematics, the greedy algorithm for Egyptian fractions is a greedy algorithm, first described by Fibonacci, for transforming rational numbers into Egyptian fractions. An Egyptian fraction is a representation of an irreducible fraction as a sum of unit fractions, as e.g. 5/6 = 1/2 + 1/3...

  • Hadamard matrix
    Hadamard matrix
    In mathematics, an Hadamard matrix, named after the French mathematician Jacques Hadamard, is a square matrix whose entries are either +1 or −1 and whose rows are mutually orthogonal...

  • Sylvester's criterion
    Sylvester's criterion
    In mathematics, Sylvester’s criterion is a necessary and sufficient criterion to determine whether a Hermitian matrix is positive-definite. It is named after James Joseph Sylvester....

  • Sylvester domain
    Sylvester domain
    In mathematics, a Sylvester domain, named after James Joseph Sylvester by , is a ring in which Sylvester's law of nullity holds. This means that if A is an m by n matrix and B an n by s matrix over R, thenwhere ρ is the inner rank of a matrix...

  • Sylvester's law of inertia
    Sylvester's law of inertia
    Sylvester's law of inertia is a theorem in matrix algebra about certain properties of the coefficient matrix of a real quadratic form that remain invariant under a change of coordinates...


External links

  • Collected papers – from the University of Michigan
    University of Michigan
    The University of Michigan is a public research university located in Ann Arbor, Michigan in the United States. It is the state's oldest university and the flagship campus of the University of Michigan...

     Historical Math Collection
  • J.J.Sylvester home page
  • Selected Poetry of James Joseph Sylvester
  • James Joseph Sylvester at Wikiquote
    Wikiquote
    Wikiquote is one of a family of wiki-based projects run by the Wikimedia Foundation, running on MediaWiki software. Based on an idea by Daniel Alston and implemented by Brion Vibber, the goal of the project is to produce collaboratively a vast reference of quotations from prominent people, books,...