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.
Problem II.8 in the Arithmetica by Diophantus, annotated with Fermat's comment, which became Fermat's Last Theorem Image credit: |
Fermat's Last Theorem is one of the most famous theorems in the history of mathematics. It states that:
Despite how closely the problem is related to the Pythagorean theorem, which has infinite solutions and hundreds of proofs, Fermat's subtle variation is much more difficult to prove. Still, the problem itself is easily understood even by schoolchildren, making it all the more frustrating and generating perhaps more incorrect proofs than any other problem in the history of mathematics.
The 17th-century mathematician Pierre de Fermat wrote in 1637 in his copy of Bachet's translation of the famous Arithmetica of Diophantus: "I have a truly marvelous proof of this proposition which this margin is too narrow to contain." However, no correct proof was found for 357 years, until it was finally proven using very deep methods by Andrew Wiles in 1995 (after a failed attempt a year before).
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Here a polyhedron called a truncated icosahedron (left) is compared to the classic Adidas Telstar–style football (or soccer ball). The familiar 32-panel ball design, consisting of 12 black pentagonal and 20 white hexagonal panels, was first introduced by the Danish manufacturer Select Sport, based loosely on the geodesic dome designs of Buckminster Fuller; it was popularized by the selection of the Adidas Telstar as the official match ball of the 1970 FIFA World Cup. The polyhedron is also the shape of the Buckminsterfullerene (or "Buckyball") carbon molecule initially predicted theoretically in the late 1960s and first generated in the laboratory in 1985. Like all polyhedra, the vertices (corner points), edges (lines between these points), and faces (flat surfaces bounded by the lines) of this solid obey the Euler characteristic, V − E + F = 2 (here, 60 − 90 + 32 = 2). The icosahedron from which this solid is obtained by truncating (or "cutting off") each vertex (replacing each by a pentagonal face), has 12 vertices, 30 edges, and 20 faces; it is one of the five regular solids, or Platonic solids—named after Plato, whose school of philosophy in ancient Greece held that the classical elements (earth, water, air, fire, and a fifth element called aether) were associated with these regular solids. The fifth element was known in Latin as the "quintessence", a hypothesized uncorruptible material (in contrast to the other four terrestrial elements) filling the heavens and responsible for celestial phenomena. That such idealized mathematical shapes as polyhedra actually occur in nature (e.g., in crystals and other molecular structures) was discovered by naturalists and physicists in the 19th and 20th centuries, largely independently of the ancient philosophies.
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