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Portal:Mathematics

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Mathematics is the study of numbers, quantity, space, pattern, structure, and change. Mathematics is used throughout the world as an essential tool in many fields, including natural science, engineering, medicine, and the social sciences. Applied mathematics, the branch of mathematics concerned with application of mathematical knowledge to other fields, inspires and makes use of new mathematical discoveries and sometimes leads to the development of entirely new mathematical disciplines, such as statistics and game theory. Mathematicians also engage in pure mathematics, or mathematics for its own sake, without having any application in mind. There is no clear line separating pure and applied mathematics, and practical applications for what began as pure mathematics are often discovered.

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A homotopy from a circle around a sphere down to a single point.
Image credit: Richard Morris

The homotopy groups of spheres describe the different ways spheres of various dimensions can be wrapped around each other. They are studied as part of algebraic topology. The topic can be hard to understand because the most interesting and surprising results involve spheres in higher dimensions. These are defined as follows: an n-dimensional sphere, n-sphere, consists of all the points in a space of n+1 dimensions that are a fixed distance from a center point. This definition is a generalization of the familiar circle (1-sphere) and sphere (2-sphere).

The goal of algebraic topology is to categorize or classify topological spaces. Homotopy groups were invented in the late 19th century as a tool for such classification, in effect using the set of mappings from a c-sphere into a space as a way to probe the structure of that space. An obvious question was how this new tool would work on n-spheres themselves. No general solution to this question has been found to date, but many homotopy groups of spheres have been computed and the results are surprisingly rich and complicated. The study of the homotopy groups of spheres has led to the development of many powerful tools used in algebraic topology.

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graph in the complex plane showing a looping curve passing several times through the origin

This is a graph of a portion of the complex-valued Riemann zeta function along the critical line (the set of complex numbers having real part equal to 1/2). More specifically, it is a graph of Im ζ(1/2 + it) versus Re ζ(1/2 + it) (the imaginary part vs. the real part) for values of the real variable t running from 0 to 34 (the curve starts at its leftmost point, with real part approximately −1.46 and imaginary part 0). The first five zeros along the critical line are visible in this graph as the five times the curve passes through the origin (which occur at t  14.13, 21.02, 25.01, 30.42, and 32.93 — for a different perspective, see a graph of the real and imaginary parts of this function plotted separately over a wider range of values). In 1914, G. H. Hardy proved that ζ(1/2 + it) has infinitely many zeros. According to the Riemann hypothesis, zeros of this form constitute the only non-trivial zeros of the full zeta function, ζ(s), where s varies over all complex numbers. Riemann's zeta function grew out of Leonhard Euler's study of real-valued infinite series in the early 18th century. In a famous 1859 paper called "On the Number of Primes Less Than a Given Magnitude", Bernhard Riemann extended Euler's results to the complex plane and established a relation between the zeros of his zeta function and the distribution of prime numbers. The paper also contained the previously mentioned Riemann hypothesis, which is considered by many mathematicians to be the most important unsolved problem in pure mathematics. The Riemann zeta function plays a pivotal role in analytic number theory and has applications in physics, probability theory, and applied statistics.

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