Saturday, June 14, 2014

Number theory is like poetry

     Austrian-born Olga Taussky-Todd (1906-1995) was a noted and prolific mathematician who left her homeland for London in 1935 and moved on to California in 1945. Her best-known work was in the field of matrix theory (in England during World War II she started to use matrices to analyze vibrations of airplanes) and she also made important contributions to number theory. In the math-poetry anthology, Against Infinity, I found a poem by this outstanding mathematician.  

     Number Theory     by Olga Taussky-Todd

     Number theory seems greater
     than what comes later
     in the strict athletics
     of mathematics.
     For numbers can delight one
     as was shown by Ramanujan
     who could not prove all he found
     and yet he knew it was sound.
     Number theory is like poetry
     they are both of the same kind
     they start a fire in your mind.
     Number theory is not just clever and smart
     it has a beauty that fills your heart.
     Is it futile to wonder
     whether far out and yonder

     they have numbers that differ from ours
     and obey rules that seem strange and obscure
     and yet have the same lure?

The mathematical field of "number theory" deals with properties of the integers.  One important topic is that of primes.  It was known to Euclid that there are infinitely many primes but there still is not a proof concerning the infinity of twin-prime pairs -- integers like 29 and 31, for example, that differ by 2 and are both prime.

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