Arthur Cayley

Arthur Cayley (1821—1895) was born in 1821, in Cambridge, England. He was the second son. He entered Trinity College at the age of 17, as a pensioner. In 1842, he graduated as senior wrangler. Later he went to a law school and in 1849 he became a lawyer. As a lawyer, he made a comfortable living and in fourteen years, during which he practiced his law profession, he wrote approximately 300 mathematical papers.

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In 1863, Cayley was elected to the new Sadlerian chair of pure mathematics at Cambridge, where he remained until his death. He died in 1895.

For most of his life, Cayley worked on mathematics, theoretical dynamics, and mathematical astronomy. In 1876, he published his only book, Treatise on Elliptic Functions. Cayley wrote 966 papers; there are thirteen volumes of his collected papers.

Cayley’s mathematical style was terse. He usually wrote out his results and published them without delay. He, along with J. J. Sylvester, his lifelong friend, is considered to be the founder of invariant theory. He is also responsible for matrix theory. The square notation used for determinants is due to Cayley. He proved many important theorems of matrix theory, such as the Cayley-Hamilton theorem. He is one of the first mathematicians to consider geometry of more than three dimensions.

In 1854, Cayley published, “On the theory of groups depending on the symbolic equation θn = 1.” In this paper, he considered a group as a set of symbols, 1, α, β, . . . , all of them different and such that the product of any two of them (no matter in what order), or the product of any one of them into itself, belongs to the set.

This formulation of a group as a set of symbols and multiplications is different from the formulation considered by the earlier mathematicians. The paper is generally regarded as the earliest work on abstract group theory and Cayley is regarded as the founder of abstract group theory. He is best known for the theorem that every finite group is isomorphic to a suitable permutation group. In his article of 1854, he introduced a procedure for defining a finite group by listing its elements in the form of a multiplication table, known as a Cayley table. Cayley also proved a number of important theorems.

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