If my time studying mathematics at university taught me one thing, it’s that the role maths plays in today’s world is very misunderstood, and quite frankly undervalued.
Admittedly I’m being quite dramatic – I’ve learned an awful lot of maths and how best to use and adapt what you know to solve almost any problem.
However, one of my strongest memories of my time in the library is the countless conversations with friends about the “real life” uses of maths, always centered around finances or betting and if I ever tried to move the conversation on to traffic lights, their alarm clock, or Hawkeye (anything really as maths is everywhere) I found that their attention evaporated. They would question the need for “imaginary numbers” whilst simultaneously using some electrical device that relies on this ‘’ to model the current passing around its system.
If like me you increasingly find yourself trying to fight maths corners then ‘Seven Equations that rule the world’ by the New Scientist will provide you with some great weapons for your armory. When putting on the spot it can be difficult to explain how an object or task uses maths, as quite understandably we can’t all be experts in every field. Thankfully in all likelihood at least one of the ‘Seven Equations’ will be a good place to start.
Explaining the historical derivation of each and providing key examples, the article flows seamlessly between each formula, a subtle reminder of the connections between all mathematics. Most interesting for me is the inclusion of the Schrodinger equation on quantum waves. Whilst the use of quantum science in our everyday lives is currently in its infancy, if (more likely when) quantum computing does become a reality it will change the world unlike anything seen before. It quite rightly deserves to be alongside some of the formula whose discovery sparked the last technological revolution.
Taking a step back and putting on my pure mathematics hat however, I can’t help but think that the more generalized form of each is where the beauty truly lies. These formulas model the world we live in elegantly but the mathematics behind their creation could be used to determine a similar structure to ‘rule any world’. For me, that’s the science that is most impressive.
You can’t model the wave equation without first defining the second derivative. Or Maxwell’s equations of electromagnetism without first constructing the cross product or matrix multiplication, and before both of that linear algebra as a whole.
Applications have undeniably always been a big motivation; however, when considering, for example, the Norwegian mathematician Sophus Lie, one would imagine the initial thought process behind modeling music or the theory of particle physics may have slowly been forgotten after several years researching and outlining the foundations of his Lie Groups.
This is not to doubt the merits of the equations in the article, just potentially suggest a name change. ‘Seven Equations whose applications rule your world’. Admittedly not quite as catchy, but the point stands. The world we live in today is not possible without these monumental applications of physics. Yet these applications of physics could not be possible without the foundations and beautiful equations that pure mathematics provides.
Blog by - Lucy chats maths