News / Utah / 

U of U Professsor Helps Solve the Ultimate Math Problem

U of U Professsor Helps Solve the Ultimate Math Problem

Estimated read time: 2-3 minutes

This archived news story is available only for your personal, non-commercial use. Information in the story may be outdated or superseded by additional information. Reading or replaying the story in its archived form does not constitute a republication of the story.

Paul Nelson, KSL Newsradio A University of Utah math professor joined with other scientists to crack the calculation of a lifetime. Researchers say this could lead to many more discoveries in other fields. But, is this something, really, only math geeks would get excited about?

It's a calculation that's been on the minds of mathematicians for years. It's called E8, and it took 18 researchers to crack it.

University of Utah Associate Professor of Mathematics Peter Trapa helped in the calculations and is traveling to Boston for the official unveiling of the findings at MIT.

"Up until just recently, just a few years ago, no one thought this computation was even feasible," Trapa said. "They didn't even think it was possible to approach abstractly from a computer perspective, let alone did they think it was able to run on existing hardware. This whole project is devoted to understanding the way that these symmetries appear in different places in mathematics."

This problem is bigger than anything most people have ever seen. Trapa said if it was written on paper in normal newspaper-sized print, it would cover the entire city of Manhattan. On the computer it takes around 100 gigabytes of memory. Trapa said that an iPod could play continuously for 50 days with 100 gigabytes of memory, with no repeats.

Just to show how abstract this problem is, the E8 configuration is not just a three-dimensional object. It has 248 dimensions. Trapa explained that in the physical world, time is the fourth dimension, and The 5th Dimension is a 1960s soul group out of Los Angeles. When asked about the sixth dimension, Trapa said it has yet to be discovered.

"The point is, mathematicians can just abstract this notion of dimensions and talk about any number of dimensions, even though you can't picture it physically," Trapa explained.

So, what does all this prove? Trapa said that the answer to the ultimate question is 42, if only it were that simple. He also said this calculation leads to more work to be done.

"There will be interesting places to zoom in which suggest new connections with other areas of mathematics," Trapa explained.

Trapa said scientists are no closer to teleportation or flying cars. But, to show how complicated their studies are, the E8 configuration is just one of the problems suggested under an umbrella of problems called a Lie Group where they study every symmetry ever conceived.

Most recent Utah stories

Related topics



Catch up on the top news and features from, sent weekly.
By subscribing, you acknowledge and agree to's Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

KSL Weather Forecast