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Portal:Mathematics

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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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Riemann Sphere.jpg
The region between two loxodromes on a geometric sphere.
Image credit: Karthik Narayanaswami

The Riemann sphere is a way of extending the plane of complex numbers with one additional point at infinity, in a way that makes expressions such as

well-behaved and useful, at least in certain contexts. It is named after 19th century mathematician Bernhard Riemann. It is also called the complex projective line, denoted CP1.

On a purely algebraic level, the complex numbers with an extra infinity element constitute a number system known as the extended complex numbers. Arithmetic with infinity does not obey all of the usual rules of algebra, and so the extended complex numbers do not form a field. However, the Riemann sphere is geometrically and analytically well-behaved, even near infinity; it is a one-dimensional complex manifold, also called a Riemann surface.

In complex analysis, the Riemann sphere facilitates an elegant theory of meromorphic functions. The Riemann sphere is ubiquitous in projective geometry and algebraic geometry as a fundamental example of a complex manifold, projective space, and algebraic variety. It also finds utility in other disciplines that depend on analysis and geometry, such as quantum mechanics and other branches of physics.

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hand-drawn three-dimensional graph
Credit: TakuyaMurata (uploader)

This is a hand-drawn graph of the absolute value (or modulus) of the gamma function on the complex plane, as published in the 1909 book Tables of Higher Functions, by Eugene Jahnke and Fritz Emde. Such three-dimensional graphs of complicated functions were rare before the advent of high-resolution computer graphics (even today, tables of values are used in many contexts to look up function values instead of consulting graphs directly). Published even before applications for the complex gamma function were discovered in theoretical physics in the 1930s, Jahnke and Emde's graph "acquired an almost iconic status", according to physicist Michael Berry. See a similar computer-generated image for comparison. When restricted to positive integers, the gamma function generates the factorials through the relation Γ(n) = (n − 1)!, which is the product of all positive integers from n − 1 down to 1 (0! is defined to be equal to 1). For real and complex numbers, the function is defined by the improper integral . This integral diverges when t is a negative integer, which is causing the spikes in the left half of the graph (these are simple poles of the function, where its values increase to infinity, analogous to asymptotes in two-dimensional graphs). The gamma function has applications in quantum physics, astrophysics, and fluid dynamics, as well as in number theory and probability.

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