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William Kingdon Clifford (1845-1879)

The common sense of the exact sciences (1885)

William Kingdon Clifford was born in Exeter, Devon, and attended school at Exeter Grammar School and the Mansion House School before studying at King’s College London and Trinity College Cambridge.  In 1872 he became Professor of Mathematics and Mechanics at University College London and in 1874 a Fellow of the Royal Society.

A pioneering mathematician and philosopher, Clifford is best known for his contributions to geometry, introducing what is now called geometric algebra.  The ‘Clifford Algebra’ is named after him.

He was known for working late into the night and this may have brought on his breakdown in 1876 from which he never fully recovered.  Shortly after, he died of tuberculosis while recovering in Madeira.

Despite his relatively short life, Clifford’s contributions to mathematics and philosophy have had a lasting impact on the field of mathematics, particularly in regard to mechanics.

Volume 51 of the International Scientific Series is dedicated to Clifford’s work. This series aimed to popularise the study of science and make it accessible to the general public.  It promoted a wide range of disciplines from physics, chemistry and biology to psychology and anthropology.