Quanta Magazine's stories of mathematical explorations show that “inspiration strikes willy-nilly,” revealing surprising solutions and exciting discoveries.
If you're a science and data nerd like me, you may be interested in "Alice and Bob Meet the Wall of Fire" and "The Prime Number Conspiracy" from Quanta Magazine and Thomas Lin. - Bill Gates
These stories from Quanta Magazine map the routes of mathematical exploration, showing readers how cutting-edge research is done, while illuminating the productive tension between conjecture and proof, theory and intuition. The stories show that, as James Gleick puts it in the foreword, “inspiration strikes willy-nilly.” One researcher thinks of quantum chaotic systems at a bus stop; another suddenly realizes a path to proving a theorem of number theory while in a friend's backyard; a statistician has a “bathroom sink epiphany” and discovers the key to solving the Gaussian correlation inequality. Readers of The Prime Number Conspiracy, says Quanta editor-in-chief Thomas Lin, are headed on “breathtaking intellectual journeys to the bleeding edge of discovery strapped to the narrative rocket of humanity's never-ending pursuit of knowledge.”Quanta is the only popular publication that offers in-depth coverage of the latest breakthroughs in understanding our mathematical universe. It communicates mathematics by taking it seriously, wrestling with difficult concepts and clearly explaining them in a way that speaks to our innate curiosity about our world and ourselves. Readers of this volume will learn that prime numbers have decided preferences about the final digits of the primes that immediately follow them (the “conspiracy” of the title); consider whether math is the universal language of nature (allowing for “a unified theory of randomness”); discover surprising solutions (including a pentagon tiling proof that solves a century-old math problem); ponder the limits of computation; measure infinity; and explore the eternal question “Is mathematics good for you?”
ContributorsAriel Bleicher, Robbert Dijkgraaf, Kevin Hartnett, Erica Klarreich, Thomas Lin, John Pavlus, Siobhan Roberts, Natalie Wolchover
Copublished with Quanta Magazine
About the Author
James Gleick has written several popular books about science and technology, including Time Travel: A History and Chaos.
Table of Contents
Foreword James Gleick xi
Introduction Thomas Lin xvii
I What's So Special About Prime Numbers?
Unheralded Mathematician Bridges The Prime Gap Erica Klarreich 3
Together And Alone, Closing The Prime Gap Erica Klarreich 9
Kaisa Matomäki Dreams Of Primes Kevin Hartnett 17
Mathematicians Discover Prime Conspiracy Erica Klarreich 23
II Is Math The Universal Language Of Nature?
Mathematicians Chase Moonshine's Shadow Erica Klarreich 29
In Mysterious Pattern, Math And Nature Converge Natalie Wolchover 37
At The Far Ends Of A New Universal Law Natalie Wolchover 43
A Bird's-Eye View Of Nature's Hidden Order Natalie Wolchover 51
A Unified Theory Of Randomness Kevin Hartnett 59
Strange Numbers Found In Particle Collisions Kevin Hartnett 73
Quantum Questions Inspire New Math Robbert Dijkgraaf 81
III How Are Surprising Proofs Discovered?
A Path Less Taken To The Peak Of The Math World Kevin Hartnett 89
A Long-Sought Proof, Found And Almost Lost Natalie Wolchover 103
"Outsiders" Crack 50-Year-Old Math Problem Erica Klarreich 109
Mathematicians Tame Rogue Waves, Lighting Up Future Of Leds Kevin Hartnett 117
Pentagon Tiling Proof Solves Century-Old Math Problem Natalie Wolchover 123
Simple Set Game Proof Stuns Mathematicians Erica Klarreich 129
A Magical Answer To An 80-Year-Old Puzzle Erica Klarreich 135
Sphere Packing Solved In Higher Dimensions Erica Klarreich 139
IV How Do The Best Mathematical Minds Work?
A Tenacious Explorer Of Abstract Surfaces Erica Klarreich 147
A "Rebel" Without A Ph.D. Thomas Lin 155
A Brazilian Wunderkind Who Clams Chaos Thomas Lin Erica Klarreich 163
The Musical, Magical Number Theorist Erica Klarreich 173
The Oracle Of Arithmetic Erica Klarreich 181
After Prime Proof, An Unlikely Star Rises Thomas Lin 187
In Noisy Equations, One Who Heard Music Natalie Wolchover 193
Michael Atiyah's Imaginative State Of Mind Siobhan Roberts 201
V What Can Or Can't Computers Do?
Hacker-Proof Code Confirmed Kevin Hartnett 211
Will Computers Redefine The Roots Of Math? Kevin Hartnett 219
Landmark Algorithm Breaks 30-Year Impasse Erica Klarreich 229
A Grand Vision For The Impossible Thomas Lin Erica Klarreich 235
VI What Is Infinity?
To Settle Infinity Dispute, A New Law Of Logic Natalie Wolchover 245
Mathematicians Bridge Finite-Infinite Divide Natalie Wolchover 253
Mathematicians Measure Infinities And Find They're Equal Kevin Hartnett 261
VII Is Mathematics Good For You?
A Life Inspired By An Unexpected Genius John Pavlus 269
To Live Your Best Life, Do Mathematics Kevin Hartnett 275
Why Math Is The Best Way To Make Sense Of The World Ariel Bleicher 281
What People are Saying About This
Mathematics has rarely seemed as vibrant and aliveand as thrillingas it does in these pages. When the best writers explain the best mathematics, it's a wonder to behold. These are stories of drama, passion, longing and inspiration. They're also a lot of fun to read.Steven Strogatz, Cornell University and author of The Joy of x
A gourmet tasting menu of recent advances in mathematics, where each dish has depth and flavor while being small enough not to overwhelm. Human stories behind the discoveries make them gripping even when the content might be beyond our grasp and serve as an important reminder that even the most abstract mathematics is a human pursuit.Eugenia Cheng, Mathematician and author of How to Bake Pi, Beyond Infinity, and The Art of Logic
This is a remarkable collection of some of the most fascinating problemsand minds in mathematics, ranging from Spielman's groundbreaking work in networks to a unified theory of randomness. Consistently informative, accessible, and thought-provoking, these essays chronicle the most critical human endeavor: the quest for understanding.John Urschel, Former NFL player and current MIT PhD candidate in mathematics
Quanta Magazine has, for several years now, been an unequaled source of high-quality articles from talented writers, clearly explaining what is going on at the frontiers of mathematical research. Gathered together they give a uniquely rich and in-depth picture of modern mathematics and mathematicians.Peter Woit, Mathematical Physicist and Senior Lecturer at Columbia University, and author of Not Even Wrong and Quantum Theory, Groups and Representations
The Prime Number Conspiracy tells math stories the right wayas storiesabout beautiful, crazy new ideas in the world but also about the teams of humans who bring those ideas into being. It's a rush for anyone who cares about math and those who make it.Jordan Ellenberg, Professor of Mathematics, University of Wisconsin–Madison; author of How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking