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A mathematician is a person whose primary area of study and/or research is the field of mathematics. Mathematicians are concerned with particular problems related to logic, space, transformations, numbers and more general ideas which encompass these concepts.
Some notable mathematicians include Sir Isaac Newton, Johann Carl Friedrich Gauss, Archimedes of Syracuse, Leonhard Paul Euler, Georg Friedrich Bernhard Riemann, Euclid of Alexandria, Jules Henri Poincaré, David Hilbert, Joseph-Louis Lagrange, and Pierre de Fermat.
Some scientists who research other fields are also considered mathematicians if their research provides insights into mathematics—one notable example is Edward Witten. Conversely, some mathematicians may provide insights into other fields of research—these people are known as applied mathematicians.
Mathematicians usually cover a breadth of topics within mathematics in their undergraduate education, and then proceed to specialize in topics of their choice at the graduate level. In some universities, a qualifying exam serves to test both the breadth and depth of a person's understanding in mathematics; should s/he pass, s/he is permitted to work on a doctoral dissertation.
There are notable cases where mathematicians have failed to reflect their ability in their university education, but have nevertheless become remarkable mathematicians. Fermat, for example, is known for having been "Prince of Amateurs", because he never did research in university and took Mathematics as a hobby. A majority of these cases were those of child prodigies.
Problems in Mathematics
The publication of new discoveries in mathematics continues at an immense rate in hundreds of scientific journals. In particular, mathematics is not a closed system, in that there is no shortage of open problems; in fact, at any given time, there are infinitely many potential open problems which mathematicians have not stumbled upon. The diversity of mathematics also allows for problems, which, in certain contexts, may not be solved or are undecidable in particular theories!
Recently, an important problem in the field of number theory was resolved by the mathematician Andrew Wiles; this is known as Fermat's Last Theorem. The problem remained open for approximately 350 years making it one of the oldest problems in the history of mathematics.
Another recently resolved important problem, in the field of differential topology, is the Poincaré conjecture. Like Fermat's Last Theorem, this conjecture withstood 100 years of attempts at its solution, but was eventually resolved by Russian mathematician Grigori Perelman in 2003. A peer review was completed in 2006, and the proof was accepted as valid.
The Poincaré conjecture belonged to a larger class of open problems (prior to its proof) known as the Millennium Prize Problems. These problems concern such diverse fields of mathematics such as algebraic geometry, algebraic number theory, differential geometry, theoretical computer science and so forth. For any one of these problems, there is a US$1,000,000 award for its solution. However, many mathematicians consider the prestige to be of a greater value than the actual sum of money.
Mathematicians do research in fields such as logic, set theory, category theory, modern algebra, number theory, analysis, geometry, topology, dynamical systems, combinatorics, game theory, information theory, numerical analysis, optimization, computation, probability and statistics. These fields comprise both pure mathematics and applied mathematics, as well as establish links between the two. Some fields, such as the theory of dynamical systems, or game theory, are classified as applied mathematics due to the relationships they possess with physics, economics and the other sciences. Whether probability theory and statistics are of theoretical nature, applied nature, or both, is quite controversial among mathematicians. Other branches of mathematics, however, such as logic, number theory, category theory or set theory are accepted to be a part of pure mathematics, although they do indeed find applications in other sciences (predominantly computer science and physics). Likewise, analysis, geometry and topology, although considered pure mathematics, do find applications in theoretical physics - string theory, for instance.
Although it is true that mathematics finds diverse applications in many areas of research, a mathematician does not determine the value of an idea by the diversity of its applications. Mathematics is interesting in its own right, and a majority of mathematicians investigate the diversity of structures studied in ''mathematics itself''. Furthermore, a mathematician is not someone who merely manipulates formulas, numbers or equations - the diversity of mathematics permits for researchers in other areas too. In fact, the theory of equations and numbers (formulas to a lesser extent in theoretical mathematics, but to some extent in applied mathematics), can lead to deep questions. For instance, if one graphs a set of solutions of an equation in some higher dimensional space, he may ask of the geometric properties of the graph. Thus one can understand equations by a pure understanding of abstract topology or geometry - this idea is of importance in algebraic geometry. Similarly, a mathematican does not restrict his study of numbers to the integers; rather he considers more abstract structures such as rings, and in particular number rings in the context of algebraic number theory. This exemplifies the abstract nature of mathematics and how it is not restricted to questions one may ask in daily life.
In a different direction, mathematicians ask questions about space and transformations, but which are not restricted to geometric figures such as squares and circles. For instance, an active area of research within the field of differential topology concerns itself with the ways in which one can "smoothen" higher dimensional figures. In fact, whether one can smoothen certain higher dimensional spheres remains open - it is known as the smooth Poincaré conjecture. Another aspect of mathematics, set-theoretic topology and point-set topology, concerns objects of a different nature to those in our universe, or in a higher dimensional analogue of our universe. These objects behave in a rather strange manner under deformations, and the properties they possess are completely different to those objects in our universe. For instance, the "distance" between one point on such an object, and another point, may depend on the order in which you consider the pair of points. This is quite different to ordinary life, in which it is accepted that the straight line distance from person A to person B is the same (and not different to!) that between person B and person A.
Another aspect of mathematics, often referred to as "foundational mathematics", consists of the fields of logic and set theory. Here, various ideas regarding the ways in which one can prove certain claims are explored. This theory is far more complex than it seems, in that the truth of a claim depends on the context in which the claim is made, unlike basic ideas in daily life where truth is absolute. In fact, although some claims may be true, it is impossible to prove or disprove them in rather natural contexts!
Category theory, another field within "foundational mathematics", is rooted on the abstract axiomatization of the definition of a "class of mathematical structures", referred to as a "category". A category intuitively consists of a collection of objects, and defined relationships between them. While these objects may be anything (such as "tables" or "chairs"), mathematicians are usually interested in particular, more abstract, classes of such objects. In any case, it is the ''relationships between these objects'', and ''not the actual objects'' which are predominantly studied.
The Nobel Prize is never awarded for work in the field of theoretical mathematics. Instead, the most prestigious award in mathematics is the Fields Medal, sometimes referred to as the "Nobel Prize of Mathematics". The Fields Medal is considered more of a prestige than a mere reward in that it is only awarded every four years, and the amount of money awarded is small in comparison to that of the Nobel Prize. Furthermore, the recipient of the Fields Medal must be (roughly) under 40 years of age at the time the medal is awarded. Other prominent prizes in mathematics include the Abel Prize, the Nemmers Prize, the Wolf Prize, the Schock Prize, and the Nevanlinna Prize.
Mathematics differs from natural sciences in that physical theories in the sciences are tested by experiments, while mathematical statements are supported by proofs which may be verified objectively by mathematicians. If a certain statement is believed to be true by mathematicians (typically because special cases have been confirmed to some degree) but has neither been proven nor dis-proven, it is called a ''conjecture'', as opposed to the ultimate goal: a ''theorem'' that is proven true. Physical theories may be expected to change whenever new information about our physical world is discovered. Mathematics changes in a different way: new ideas don't falsify old ones but rather are used to ''generalize'' what was known before to capture a broader range of phenomena. For instance, calculus (in one variable) generalizes to multivariable calculus, which generalizes to analysis on manifolds. The development of algebraic geometry from its classical to modern forms is a particularly striking example of the way an area of mathematics can change radically in its viewpoint without making what was proved before in any way incorrect. While a theorem, once proved, is true forever, our understanding of what the theorem ''really means'' gains in profundity as the mathematics around the theorem grows. A mathematician feels that a theorem is better understood when it can be extended to apply in a broader setting than previously known. For instance, Fermat's little theorem for the nonzero integers modulo a prime generalizes to Euler's theorem for the invertible numbers modulo any nonzero integer, which generalizes to Lagrange's theorem for finite groups.
Doctoral degree statistics for mathematicians in the United States
The number of Doctoral degrees in mathematics awarded each year in the United States has ranged from 750 to 1230 over the past 35 years. In the early seventies, degree awards were at their peak, followed by a decline throughout the seventies, a rise through the eighties, and another peak through the nineties. Unemployment for new doctoral recipients peaked at 10.7% in 1994 but was as low as 3.3% by 2000. The percentage of female doctoral recipients increased from 15% in 1980 to 30% in 2000.
As of 2000, there are approximately 21,000 full-time faculty positions in mathematics at colleges and universities in the United States. Of these positions about 36% are at institutions whose highest degree granted in mathematics is a bachelor's degree, 23% at institutions that offer a master's degree and 41% at institutions offering a doctoral degree.
The median age for doctoral recipients in 1999-2000 was 30, and the mean age was 31.7.''''''
Women in mathematics
While the majority of mathematicians are male, there have been some demographic changes since World War II. Some prominent female mathematicians are Hypatia of Alexandria (ca. 400 AD), Labana of Cordoba (ca. 1000), Ada Lovelace (1815–1852), Maria Gaetana Agnesi (1718–1799), Emmy Noether (1882–1935), Sophie Germain (1776–1831), Sofia Kovalevskaya (1850–1891), Rózsa Péter (1905–1977), Julia Robinson (1919–1985), Olga Taussky-Todd (1906–1995), Émilie du Châtelet (1706–1749), and Mary Cartwright (1900–1998).
The Association for Women in Mathematics is a professional society whose purpose is "to encourage women and girls to study and to have active careers in the mathematical sciences, and to promote equal opportunity and the equal treatment of women and girls in the mathematical sciences."
The American Mathematical Society and other mathematical societies offer several prizes aimed at increasing the representation of women and minorities in the future of mathematics.
Quotations about mathematicians
The following are quotations about mathematicians, or by mathematicians.
: ''A mathematician is a device for turning coffee into theorems.''
::—Attributed to both Alfréd Rényi and Paul Erdős
: ''Die Mathematiker sind eine Art Franzosen; redet man mit ihnen, so übersetzen sie es in ihre Sprache, und dann ist es alsobald ganz etwas anderes.'' (Mathematicians are [like] a sort of Frenchmen; if you talk to them, they translate it into their own language, and then it is immediately something quite different.)
::—Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
: ''Each generation has its few great mathematicians...and [the others'] research harms no one.''
::—Alfred W. Adler (1930- ), "Mathematics and Creativity"
: ''In short, I never yet encountered the mere mathematician who could be trusted out of equal roots, or one who did not clandestinely hold it as a point of his faith that x squared + px was absolutely and unconditionally equal to q. Say to one of these gentlemen, by way of experiment, if you please, that you believe occasions may occur where x squared + px is not altogether equal to q, and, having made him understand what you mean, get out of his reach as speedily as convenient, for, beyond doubt, he will endeavor to knock you down.''
::—Edgar Allan Poe, ''The purloined letter''
: ''A mathematician, like a painter or poet, is a maker of patterns. If his patterns are more permanent than theirs, it is because they are made with ideas.''
::—G. H. Hardy, ''A Mathematician's Apology''
: ''Some of you may have met mathematicians and wondered how they got that way.''
: ''It is impossible to be a mathematician without being a poet in soul.''