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William Davidson Niven

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1843

Peterhead, Scotland

29 May 1917

Sidcup, Kent, England

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William Niven was one of three distinguished mathematical brothers. He graduated from the University of Aberdeen in Scotland which was his local university as Peterhead is not far from Aberdeen. From there, as was the tradition of the Scottish Universities at that time, Niven went to study at the University of Cambridge.

At Cambridge Niven studied mathematics at Trinity College, where he graduated as third Wrangler in 1866. The following year he was elected to a fellowship at Trinity College.

Niven left Cambridge to take up an appointment as professor at Woolwich. There he worked on gunnery and ballistics. However the attraction of Cambridge was great and he returned there becaming a firm friend of Maxwell .

After Maxwell 's death, Niven helped to edit the second edition of Maxwell 's Electricity and Magnetism. Inspired by Maxwell and his mathematics, Niven turned increasingly towards the study of spherical and ellipsoidal harmonics.

In 1882 Niven was appointed to a chair at the Royal Naval College in Greenwich. In the same year he was honoured by being elected a Fellow of the Royal Society .

Niven was an active member and staunch supporter of the London Mathematical Society and he served as its President from 1908 until 1910.

Source:School of Mathematics and Statistics University of St Andrews, Scotland