William Kingdon Clifford (1845-1879)

Rooney, Joseph (2007). William Kingdon Clifford (1845-1879). In: Ceccarelli, Marco ed. Distinguished figures in mechanism and machine science: Their contributions and legacies. History of mechanism and machine science, Volume. Dordrecht, Netherlands: Springer, pp. 79–116.

URL: http://www.springer.com/east/home/engineering/mech...


William Kingdon Clifford was an English mathematician and philosopher who worked extensively in many branches of pure mathematics and classical mechanics. Although he died young, he left a deep and long-lasting legacy, particularly in geometry. One of the main achievements that he is remembered for is his pioneering work on integrating Hamilton’s Elements of Quaternions with Grassmann’s Theory of Extension into a more general coherent corpus, now referred to eponymously as Clifford algebras. These geometric algebras are utilised in engineering mechanics (especially in robotics) as well as in mathematical physics (especially in quantum mechanics) for representing spatial relationships, motions, and dynamics within systems of particles and rigid bodies. Clifford’s study of geometric algebras in both Euclidean and non-Euclidean spaces led to his invention of the biquaternion, now used as an efficient representation for twists and wrenches in the same context as that of Ball’s Theory of Screws.

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