# Tait, Peter Guthrie (1831–1901)
Scottish scientist and mathematician who carried out the world's first systematic
investigation of knot theory. Early in his
career he formed a friendship with William Hamilton
and became fascinated in the application of Hamilton's quaternions
to problems in physics. In 1857, he also took an interest in Hermann Helmholtz's
theories on the behavior of vortex rings, and began experimenting with smoke
rings and their interactions. These experiments greatly impressed William
Thomson (Lord Kelvin) who saw in them a possible
way (wrong, as we now know) to explain atomic structure and the buildup
of different elements. This idea, in turn, led Tait, Thomson, and James
Maxwell to do seminal work on knot theory,
since the basic building blocks in Thomson's vortex atom model were rings
knotted in three dimensions. Without any rigorous theory, which would have
been well beyond 19th-century mathematics, Tait began to classify knots
using his geometric intuition. By 1877 he had classified all knots with
seven crossings. He then went on to consider the coloring of graphs and
put forward a hypothesis (see Tait's conjecture)
which, if true (which it wasn't), would have proved the four-color
theorem. Among his many other accomplishments, Tait wrote a classic
paper on the trajectory of golf balls (1896). This was a subject close to
his heart because the third of his four sons was Frederick Gutherie Tait,
the leading amateur golfer in 1893 and winner of the Open Golf Championship
in 1896 and 1898. ## Related category
• MATHEMATICIANS |