A fourth year international Mathematical Science student at NUI Galway is one of nine students awarded the prestigious 2021 Hamilton Prize.

The Royal Irish Academy (RIA) gives the prize to the top mathematical students in their penultimate year of study as nominated by their university.

The ceremony took place to mark Hamilton Day, the anniversary of renowned Irish scientist William Rowan Hamilton’s discovery of quaternion algebra on October 16, 1843.

Originally from the Hubei Province in China, fourth year BSc Mathematical Science student Lijun Zou, said: "I am very honoured to receive the Hamilton Prize. As an international student, I faced many challenges such as the language barrier. But the faculty members of the School of Maths are all very friendly and helped me a lot. I really appreciate them.''

Describing Lijun as remarkably hard working and extremely dedicated to her studies, Aisling McCluskey, professor in mathematics, School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences, NUI Galway, said: “The award of the prestigious Hamilton Prize is a tremendous honour and we are delighted to acknowledge and celebrate Lijun’s achievement.

“This special prize underscores the importance of valuing and encouraging our undergraduate mathematicians as they progress into final year and into future STEM careers.” 

Discovered quaternion algebra while walking along Royal Canal

In recognition of her mathematical excellence, Lijun Zou received a cash prize of €250, a certificate of achievement and was invited to attend an exclusive masterclass with the 2021 Hamilton Lecture speaker Caroline Series, emeritus professor of mathematics at the University of Warwick, and met with Dr Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin in conversation with Professor Series.

Hamilton Day commemorates a ground-breaking discovery by one of Ireland’s most famous scientist. On October 16, 1843, William Rowan Hamilton discovered quaternion algebra, while walking along the Royal Canal from Dunsink Observatory to the Royal Irish Academy. This was one of those very rare Eureka moments in the history of science. So excited was he by his discovery that he scratched his equation on the wall of Broome Bridge, Cabra.

Hamilton’s discovery of quaternions was important in the development of modern abstract algebra and the quaternions remain useful in calculating rotations of solid bodies and are thus important in satellite navigation and video game programming.