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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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The real part (red) and imaginary part (blue) of the critical line Re(s) = 1/2 of the Riemann zeta-function.
Image credit: User:Army1987

The Riemann hypothesis, first formulated by Bernhard Riemann in 1859, is one of the most famous unsolved problems. It has been an open question for well over a century, despite attracting concentrated efforts from many outstanding mathematicians.

The Riemann hypothesis is a conjecture about the distribution of the zeros of the Riemann zeta-function ζ(s). The Riemann zeta-function is defined for all complex numbers s ≠ 1. It has zeros at the negative even integers (i.e. at s=-2, s=-4, s=-6, ...). These are called the trivial zeros. The Riemann hypothesis is concerned with the non-trivial zeros, and states that:

The real part of any non-trivial zero of the Riemann zeta function is ½

Thus the non-trivial zeros should lie on the so-called critical line ½ + it with t a real number and i the imaginary unit. The Riemann zeta-function along the critical line is sometimes studied in terms of the Z-function, whose real zeros correspond to the zeros of the zeta-function on the critical line.

The Riemann hypothesis is one of the most important open problems in contemporary mathematics; a $1,000,000 prize has been offered by the Clay Mathematics Institute for a proof. Most mathematicians believe the Riemann hypothesis to be true. (J. E. Littlewood and Atle Selberg have been reported as skeptical. Selberg's skepticism, if any, waned, from his young days. In a 1989 paper, he suggested that an analogue should hold for a much wider class of functions, the Selberg class.)

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animation of the classic "butterfly-shaped" Lorenz attractor seen from three different perspectives
Credit: Wikimol

The Lorenz attractor is an iconic example of a strange attractor in chaos theory. This three-dimensional fractal structure, resembling a butterfly or figure eight, reflects the long-term behavior of solutions to the Lorenz system, a set of three differential equations used by mathematician and meteorologist Edward N. Lorenz as a simple description of fluid circulation in a shallow layer (of liquid or gas) uniformly heated from below and cooled from above. To be more specific, the figure is set in a three-dimensional coordinate system whose axes measure the rate of convection in the layer (x), the horizontal temperature variation (y), and the vertical temperature variation (z). As these quantities change over time, a path is traced out within the coordinate system reflecting a particular solution to the differential equations. Lorenz's analysis revealed that while all solutions are completely deterministic, some choices of input parameters and initial conditions result in solutions showing complex, non-repeating patterns that are highly dependent on the exact values chosen. As stated by Lorenz in his 1963 paper Deterministic Nonperiodic Flow: "Two states differing by imperceptible amounts may eventually evolve into two considerably different states". He later coined the term "butterfly effect" to describe the phenomenon. One implication is that computing such chaotic solutions to the Lorenz system (i.e., with a computer program) to arbitrary precision is not possible, as any real-world computer will have a limitation on the precision with which it can represent numerical values. The particular solution plotted in this animation is based on the parameter values used by Lorenz (σ = 10, ρ = 28, and β = 8/3, constants reflecting certain physical attributes of the fluid). Note that the animation repeatedly shows one solution plotted over a specific period of time; as previously mentioned, the true solution never exactly retraces itself. Not all solutions are chaotic, however. Some choices of parameter values result in solutions that tend toward equilibrium at a fixed point (as seen, for example, in this image). Initially developed to describe atmospheric convection, the Lorenz equations also arise in simplified models for lasers, electrical generators and motors, and chemical reactions.

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