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Mathematics is the study of numbers, quantity, space, pattern, 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.

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The real part (red) and imaginary part (blue) of the critical line Re(s) = 1/2 of the Riemann zeta-function.
Image credit: User:Army1987

The Riemann hypothesis, first formulated by Bernhard Riemann in 1859, is one of the most famous unsolved problems. It has been an open question for well over a century, despite attracting concentrated efforts from many outstanding mathematicians.

The Riemann hypothesis is a conjecture about the distribution of the zeros of the Riemann zeta-function ζ(s). The Riemann zeta-function is defined for all complex numbers s ≠ 1. It has zeros at the negative even integers (i.e. at s=-2, s=-4, s=-6, ...). These are called the trivial zeros. The Riemann hypothesis is concerned with the non-trivial zeros, and states that:

The real part of any non-trivial zero of the Riemann zeta function is ½

Thus the non-trivial zeros should lie on the so-called critical line ½ + it with t a real number and i the imaginary unit. The Riemann zeta-function along the critical line is sometimes studied in terms of the Z-function, whose real zeros correspond to the zeros of the zeta-function on the critical line.

The Riemann hypothesis is one of the most important open problems in contemporary mathematics; a $1,000,000 prize has been offered by the Clay Mathematics Institute for a proof. Most mathematicians believe the Riemann hypothesis to be true. (J. E. Littlewood and Atle Selberg have been reported as skeptical. Selberg's skepticism, if any, waned, from his young days. In a 1989 paper, he suggested that an analogue should hold for a much wider class of functions, the Selberg class.)

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graph in the complex plane showing a looping curve passing several times through the origin

This is a graph of a portion of the complex-valued Riemann zeta function along the critical line (the set of complex numbers having real part equal to 1/2). More specifically, it is a graph of Im ζ(1/2 + it) versus Re ζ(1/2 + it) (the imaginary part vs. the real part) for values of the real variable t running from 0 to 34 (the curve starts at its leftmost point, with real part approximately −1.46 and imaginary part 0). The first five zeros along the critical line are visible in this graph as the five times the curve passes through the origin (which occur at t  14.13, 21.02, 25.01, 30.42, and 32.93 — for a different perspective, see a graph of the real and imaginary parts of this function plotted separately over a wider range of values). In 1914, G. H. Hardy proved that ζ(1/2 + it) has infinitely many zeros. According to the Riemann hypothesis, zeros of this form constitute the only non-trivial zeros of the full zeta function, ζ(s), where s varies over all complex numbers. Riemann's zeta function grew out of Leonhard Euler's study of real-valued infinite series in the early 18th century. In a famous 1859 paper called "On the Number of Primes Less Than a Given Magnitude", Bernhard Riemann extended Euler's results to the complex plane and established a relation between the zeros of his zeta function and the distribution of prime numbers. The paper also contained the previously mentioned Riemann hypothesis, which is considered by many mathematicians to be the most important unsolved problem in pure mathematics. The Riemann zeta function plays a pivotal role in analytic number theory and has applications in physics, probability theory, and applied statistics.

In the news

19 March 2019 –
The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters awards this year's Abel Prize to Karen Uhlenbeck for "her pioneering achievements in geometric partial differential equations, gauge theory and integrable systems." Uhlenbeck is the first woman to win this prize. (The New York Times via MSN.com)

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