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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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Riemann Sphere.jpg
The region between two loxodromes on a geometric sphere.
Image credit: Karthik Narayanaswami

The Riemann sphere is a way of extending the plane of complex numbers with one additional point at infinity, in a way that makes expressions such as

well-behaved and useful, at least in certain contexts. It is named after 19th century mathematician Bernhard Riemann. It is also called the complex projective line, denoted CP1.

On a purely algebraic level, the complex numbers with an extra infinity element constitute a number system known as the extended complex numbers. Arithmetic with infinity does not obey all of the usual rules of algebra, and so the extended complex numbers do not form a field. However, the Riemann sphere is geometrically and analytically well-behaved, even near infinity; it is a one-dimensional complex manifold, also called a Riemann surface.

In complex analysis, the Riemann sphere facilitates an elegant theory of meromorphic functions. The Riemann sphere is ubiquitous in projective geometry and algebraic geometry as a fundamental example of a complex manifold, projective space, and algebraic variety. It also finds utility in other disciplines that depend on analysis and geometry, such as quantum mechanics and other branches of physics.

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animation illustrating the meaning of a line integral of a two-dimensional scalar field

A line integral is an integral where the function to be integrated, be it a scalar field as here or a vector field, is evaluated along a curve. The value of the line integral is the sum of values of the field at all points on the curve, weighted by some scalar function on the curve (commonly arc length or, for a vector field, the scalar product of the vector field with a differential vector in the curve). A detailed explanation of the animation is available. The key insight is that line integrals may be reduced to simpler definite integrals. (See also a similar animation illustrating a line integral of a vector field.) Many formulas in elementary physics (for example, W = F · s to find the work done by a constant force F in moving an object through a displacement s) have line integral versions that work for non-constant quantities (for example, W = ∫C F · ds to find the work done in moving an object along a curve C within a continuously varying gravitational or electric field F). A higher-dimensional analog of a line integral is a surface integral, where the (double) integral is taken over a two-dimensional surface instead of along a one-dimensional curve. Surface integrals can also be thought of as generalizations of multiple integrals. All of these can be seen as special cases of integrating a differential form, a viewpoint which allows multivariable calculus to be done independently of the choice of coordinate system. While the elementary notions upon which integration is based date back centuries before Newton and Leibniz independently invented calculus, line and surface integrals were formalized in the 18th and 19th centuries as the subject was placed on a rigorous mathematical foundation. The modern notion of differential forms, used extensively in differential geometry and quantum physics, was pioneered by Élie Cartan in the late 19th century.

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