University College Cork, Ireland, is set to celebrate the bicentenary of George Boole, father of pure Mathematics and one of the most significant pioneers of the information age, with year-long events. Boole was UCC’s first professor in mathematics, in 1849.
Boolean algebra was used in the 1930s to design electrical circuits that evolved into modern computers, and the instruction sequences became computer programmes and algorithms. Boole’s work provides the mathematical and logical underpinning of computers.
A series of events in Cork, Dublin, Lincoln, London, Silicon Valley, New York and Boston have been planned to celebrate Boole’s legacy. “This includes four major projects — re-publication of Prof MacHale’s biography of Boole, screening a documentary film on the life of Boole and his descendants, the refurbishment and redesign of Boole’s house and setting up of the George Boole Institute, that aims to nurture scholarship in areas that have been touched by Boole’s work,” says Patrick Fitzpatrick, Emeritus Professor of Mathematics, UCC. The bicentenary, George Boole 200, aims to stimulate interest in STEM subjects, especially mathematics, computer science and engineering. Fitzpatrick adds that UCC had reached out to academic institutions in Chennai as a part of their plans for the bicentenary. This includes a day-long event in November this year that will be hosted by IIT Madras and the Institute of Mathematical Sciences. “We have well-established relationships with other institutes such as Anna University, Madras Christian College and SRM University, and for the Boole event we will reach out to all the higher education establishments as plans progress. The format will be a series of lectures and panel discussions on Boole and his legacy, and we hope to show the documentary film,” he says.
“Boole made a number of contributions to mathematics including the new field of invariant theory. His innovations in mathematics are so fundamental to the way pure mathematicians’ work that it has led to him being referred to, by Bertrand Russell among others, as the founder of pure mathematics,” Fitzpatrick explains.
Boole is best remembered for his book, An Investigation of the Laws of Thought, published in 1854, in which he shows how logic can be translated into algebra. “In 1937, when Claude Shannon showed how Boolean algebra can be used to construct and analyse the switching circuits that were used in telephone systems, it led to the realisation that circuits could be designed and tested at a level of complexity beyond what was possible by the ad hoc methods of the time. Soon afterwards transistors were created and the range of applications widened. This formed the engineering basis of computers, internet, phones, tablet computers, medical devices, everything! Boolean algebra per se continues to be an essential component of programmes used to optimise circuit design,” he says.