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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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Figure8knot-01.png

Image credit: User:Fropuff

Knot theory is the branch of topology that studies mathematical knots, which are defined as embeddings of a circle S1 in 3-dimensional Euclidean space, R3. This is basically equivalent to a conventional knotted string with the ends of the string joined together to prevent it from becoming undone. Two mathematical knots are considered equivalent if one can be transformed into the other via continuous deformations (known as ambient isotopies); these transformations correspond to manipulations of a knotted string that do not involve cutting the string or passing the string through itself.

Knots can be described in various ways, but the most common method is by planar diagrams (known as knot projections or knot diagrams). Given a method of description, a knot will have many descriptions, e.g., many diagrams, representing it. A fundamental problem in knot theory is determining when two descriptions represent the same knot. One way of distinguishing knots is by using a knot invariant, a "quantity" which remains the same even with different descriptions of a knot.

Research in knot theory began with the creation of knot tables and the systematic tabulation of knots. While tabulation remains an important task, today's researchers have a wide variety of backgrounds and goals. Classical knot theory, as initiated by Max Dehn, J. W. Alexander, and others, is primarily concerned with the knot group and invariants from homology theory such as the Alexander polynomial.

The discovery of the Jones polynomial by Vaughan Jones in 1984, and subsequent contributions from Edward Witten, Maxim Kontsevich, and others, revealed deep connections between knot theory and mathematical methods in statistical mechanics and quantum field theory. A plethora of knot invariants have been invented since then, utilizing sophisticated tools as quantum groups and Floer homology.

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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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