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"Real" Math

In a 1995 issue of American Journal of Physics, Dwight Neuenschwander asked: "Does any piece of mathematics exist for which there is no application whatsoever in physics?"

In 1998, Paul Dolan and Denisa Melichian responded with two unusual or unexpected applications of mathematical ideas.

First, Mobius strips often are viewed as recreational devices that play with one's mind and sense of spatial objects.

Now, they are used in the design of fan blades. And previously, they were used for conveyor belts to ensure equal wear on "both" sides of a belt.

Currently, Mobius screws are used in some kitchen mixers, saving more than 30% of the electric power needed.

Second, the zeroes of Riemann's zeta function is a very difficult idea to make sense of...even by high-level mathematicians. Toss in the Riemann hypothesis, and things become even more obtuse.

Yet, scientists have used the distribution of these zeroes in the search for the idealized energy level spectrum of heavy nuclei. (A mouthful by itself!)

Neuenschwander's question, by design, will never have a definitive answer. But, it led Dolan/Melichian to a more "philosophical" concern: "It seems that even the most esoteric mathematical innovations ...are eventually used to model physical systems. Why that should be true is of course a deep and fascinating question."

How do you weigh in on this...and if not physics, then chemistry... economics... biology... astronomy/cosmology... psychology... etc.!

Source: American Journal of Physics, Jan. 1998, p. 1