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The Mathematics Portal

Mathematics is the study of numbers, quantity, space, structure, and change. Mathematicians seek out patterns and formulate new conjectures. Mathematicians resolve the truth or falsity of conjectures by mathematical proofs, which are arguments sufficient to convince other mathematicians of their validity. The research required to solve mathematical problems can take years or even centuries of sustained inquiry. However, mathematical proofs are less formal and painstaking than proofs in mathematical logic. Since the pioneering work of Giuseppe Peano (1858–1932), David Hilbert (1862–1943), and others on axiomatic systems in the late 19th century, it has become customary to view mathematical research as establishing truth by rigorous deduction from appropriately chosen axioms and definitions. When those mathematical structures are good models of real phenomena, then mathematical reasoning often provides insight or predictions.

Through the use of abstraction and logical reasoning, mathematics developed from counting, calculation, measurement, and the systematic study of the shapes and motions of physical objects. Practical mathematics has been a human activity for as far back as written records exist. Rigorous arguments first appeared in Greek mathematics, most notably in Euclid's Elements. Mathematics developed at a relatively slow pace until the Renaissance, when mathematical innovations interacting with new scientific discoveries led to a rapid increase in the rate of mathematical discovery that continues to the present day.

Galileo Galilei (1564–1642) said, "The universe cannot be read until we have learned the language and become familiar with the characters in which it is written. It is written in mathematical language, and the letters are triangles, circles and other geometrical figures, without which means it is humanly impossible to comprehend a single word. Without these, one is wandering about in a dark labyrinth". Carl Friedrich Gauss (1777-1855) referred to mathematics as "the queen of sciences". The mathematician Benjamin Peirce (1809–1880) called the discipline, "the science that draws necessary conclusions". David Hilbert said of it: "We are not speaking here of arbitrariness in any sense. Mathematics is not like a game whose tasks are determined by arbitrarily stipulated rules. Rather, it is a conceptual system possessing internal necessity that can only be so and by no means otherwise." Albert Einstein (1879–1955) stated that "as far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality".

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 Platonic solid is a convex regular polyhedron. These are the three-dimensional analogs of the convex regular polygons. There are precisely five such figures (shown on the left). The name of each figure is derived from the number of its faces: respectively 4, 6, 8, 12 and 20. They are unique in that the sides, edges and angles are all congruent.

Due to their aesthetic beauty and symmetry, the Platonic solids have been a favorite subject of geometers for thousands of years. They are named after the ancient Greek philosopher Plato who claimed the classical elements were constructed from the regular solids.

The Platonic solids have been known since antiquity. The five solids were certainly known to the ancient Greeks and there is evidence that these figures were known long before then. The neolithic people of Scotland constructed stone models of all five solids at least 1000 years before Plato.

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Picture of the month

Pascal's triangle - 1000th row.png
Credit: Endlessoblivion

1000th row of Pascal's triangle. One coefficient per row, aligned to the right, one digit per pixel, colored in 10 shades of gray from white (digit 0) to black (digit 9).

Did you know...

Did you know...
  • ...that the line separating the numerator and denominator of a fraction is called a solidus if written as a diagonal line or a vinculum if written as a horizontal line?
  • ...that a monkey hitting keys at random on a typewriter keyboard for an infinite amount of time will almost surely type the complete works of William Shakespeare?
  • ...that outstanding mathematician Grigori Perelman was offered a Fields Medal in 2006, in part for his proof of the Poincaré conjecture, which he declined?
  • ...that a regular heptagon is the regular polygon with the fewest number of sides which is not constructible with a compass and straightedge?
  • ...that the Gudermannian function relates the regular trigonometric functions and the hyperbolic trigonometric functions without the use of complex numbers?
  • ...that the Catalan numbers solve a number of problems in combinatorics such as the number of ways to completely parenthesize an algebraic expression with n+1 factors?
  • ...that a ball can be cut up and reassembled into two balls the same size as the original ( Banach-Tarski paradox)?
  • ...that it is impossible to devise a single formula involving only polynomials and radicals for solving an arbitrary quintic equation?
  • ...that Euler found 59 more amicable numbers while for 2000 years, only 3 pairs had been found before him?
  • ...that you cannot knot strings in 4-dimensions? You can, however, knot 2-dimensional surfaces like spheres.
  • ...that there are 6 unsolved mathematics problems whose solutions will earn you one million US dollars each?
  • ...that there are different sizes of infinite sets in set theory? More precisely, not all infinite cardinal numbers are equal?
  • ...that every natural number can be written as the sum of four squares?
  • ...that the largest known prime number is over 12 million digits long?
  • ...that the set of rational numbers is equal in size to the subset of integers; that is, they can be put in one-to-one correspondence?
  • ...that there are precisely six convex regular polytopes in four dimensions? These are analogs of the five Platonic solids known to the ancient Greeks.
  • ...that it is unknown whether π and e are algebraically independent?
  • ...that a nonconvex polygon with three convex vertices is called a pseudotriangle?
  • ...that it is possible for a three dimensional figure to have a finite volume but infinite surface area? An example of this is Gabriel's Horn.
  • ... that as the dimension of a hypersphere tends to infinity, its "volume" (content) tends to 0?
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