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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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CollatzFractal.png
Fractals arise in surprising places, in this case, the famous Collatz conjecture in number theory.
Image credit: Pokipsy76

A fractal is "a rough or fragmented geometric shape that can be subdivided in parts, each of which is (at least approximately) a reduced-size copy of the whole". The term was coined by Benoît Mandelbrot in 1975 and was derived from the Latin fractus meaning "broken" or "fractured".

A fractal as a geometric object generally has the following features:

  • It has a fine structure at arbitrarily small scales.
  • It is too irregular to be easily described in traditional Euclidean geometric language.
  • It is self-similar (at least approximately or stochastically).
  • It has a Hausdorff dimension which is greater than its topological dimension (although this requirement is not met by space-filling curves such as the Hilbert curve).
  • It has a simple and recursive definition.

Because they appear similar at all levels of magnification, fractals are often considered to be infinitely complex (in informal terms). Natural objects that approximate fractals to a degree include clouds, mountain ranges, lightning bolts, coastlines, and snow flakes. However, not all self-similar objects are fractals—for example, the real line (a straight Euclidean line) is formally self-similar but fails to have other fractal characteristics. Fractals, when zoomed in, will keep showing more and more of itself, and it keeps going for infinity.

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three double-cones cut by planes in different ways, resulting in the four conic sections
Credit: Pbroks13

The four conic sections arise when a plane cuts through a double cone in different ways. If the plane cuts through parallel to the side of the cone (case 1), a parabola results (to be specific, the parabola is the shape of the planar graph that is formed by the set of points of intersection of the plane and the cone). If the plane is perpendicular to the cone's axis of symmetry (case 2, lower plane), a circle results. If the plane cuts through at some angle between these two cases (case 2, upper plane) — that is, if the angle between the plane and the axis of symmetry is larger than that between the side of the cone and the axis, but smaller than a right angle — an ellipse results. If the plane is parallel to the axis of symmetry (case 3), or makes a smaller positive angle with the axis than the side of the cone does (not shown), a hyperbola results. In all of these cases, if the plane passes through the point at which the two cones meet (the vertex), a degenerate conic results. First studied by the ancient Greeks in the 4th century BCE, conic sections were still considered advanced mathematics by the time Euclid (fl. c. 300 BCE) created his Elements, and so do not appear in that famous work. Euclid did write a work on conics, but it was lost after Apollonius of Perga (d. c. 190 BCE) collected the same information and added many new results in his Conics. Other important results on conics were discovered by the medieval Persian mathematician Omar Khayyám (d. 1131 CE), who used conic sections to solve algebraic equations.

In the news

19 March 2019 –
The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters awards this year's Abel Prize to Karen Uhlenbeck for "her pioneering achievements in geometric partial differential equations, gauge theory and integrable systems." Uhlenbeck is the first woman to win this prize. (The New York Times via MSN.com)

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