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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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Stereographic projection in 3D.png
3D illustration of a stereographic projection from the north pole onto a plane below the sphere.
Image credit: Mark Howison

In geometry, the stereographic projection is a particular mapping (function) that projects a sphere onto a plane. The projection is defined on the entire sphere, except at one point: the projection point. Where it is defined, the mapping is smooth and bijective. It is conformal, meaning that it preserves angles. It is neither isometric nor area-preserving: that is, it preserves neither distances nor the areas of figures.

Intuitively, then, the stereographic projection is a way of picturing the sphere as the plane, with some inevitable compromises. Because the sphere and the plane appear in many areas of mathematics and its applications, so does the stereographic projection; it finds use in diverse fields including complex analysis, cartography, geology, and photography.

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animation of the classic "butterfly-shaped" Lorenz attractor seen from three different perspectives
Credit: Wikimol

The Lorenz attractor is an iconic example of a strange attractor in chaos theory. This three-dimensional fractal structure, resembling a butterfly or figure eight, reflects the long-term behavior of solutions to the Lorenz system, a set of three differential equations used by mathematician and meteorologist Edward N. Lorenz as a simple description of fluid circulation in a shallow layer (of liquid or gas) uniformly heated from below and cooled from above. To be more specific, the figure is set in a three-dimensional coordinate system whose axes measure the rate of convection in the layer (x), the horizontal temperature variation (y), and the vertical temperature variation (z). As these quantities change over time, a path is traced out within the coordinate system reflecting a particular solution to the differential equations. Lorentz's analysis revealed that while all solutions are completely deterministic, some choices of input parameters and initial conditions result in solutions showing complex, non-repeating patterns that are highly dependent on the exact values chosen. As stated by Lorenz in his 1963 paper Deterministic Nonperiodic Flow: "Two states differing by imperceptible amounts may eventually evolve into two considerably different states". He later coined the term "butterfly effect" to describe the phenomenon. One implication is that computing such chaotic solutions to the Lorentz system (i.e., with a computer program) to arbitrary precision is not possible, as any real-world computer will have a limitation on the precision with which it can represent numerical values. The particular solution plotted in this animation is based on the parameter values used by Lorenz (σ = 10, ρ = 28, and β = 8/3, constants reflecting certain physical attributes of the fluid). Note that the animation repeatedly shows one solution plotted over a specific period of time; as previously mentioned, the true solution never exactly retraces itself. Not all solutions are chaotic, however. Some choices of parameter values result in solutions that tend toward equilibrium at a fixed point (as seen, for example, in this image). Initially developed to describe atmospheric convection, the Lorenz equations also arise in simplified models for lasers, electrical generators and motors, and chemical reactions.

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