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Portal:Mathematics

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Mathematics is the study of numbers, quantity, space, 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.

There are approximately 31,444 mathematics articles in Wikipedia.

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CollatzFractal.png
Fractals arise in surprising places, in this case, the famous Collatz conjecture in number theory.
Image credit: Pokipsy76

A fractal is "a rough or fragmented geometric shape that can be subdivided in parts, each of which is (at least approximately) a reduced-size copy of the whole". The term was coined by Benoît Mandelbrot in 1975 and was derived from the Latin fractus meaning "broken" or "fractured".

A fractal as a geometric object generally has the following features:

  • It has a fine structure at arbitrarily small scales.
  • It is too irregular to be easily described in traditional Euclidean geometric language.
  • It is self-similar (at least approximately or stochastically).
  • It has a Hausdorff dimension which is greater than its topological dimension (although this requirement is not met by space-filling curves such as the Hilbert curve).
  • It has a simple and recursive definition.

Because they appear similar at all levels of magnification, fractals are often considered to be infinitely complex (in informal terms). Natural objects that approximate fractals to a degree include clouds, mountain ranges, lightning bolts, coastlines, and snow flakes. However, not all self-similar objects are fractals—for example, the real line (a straight Euclidean line) is formally self-similar but fails to have other fractal characteristics.

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black-and-white colored truncated icosahedron beside a classic 1970s soccer ball for comparison

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, VE + 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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