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Ed Yeates Reporting If you thought math was hard in high school, wait until you see a complicated problem that was worked out by a coalition of mathematicians, including one here in Utah.
Though the kid in the movie "Rushmore" may have dreamed about solving a complicated math problem, this is NOTHING! In real life, if you actually tried to write down this latest calculation in a straight line, forget the blackboard.
Keep writing out to the sidewalk, across the street, across land and across the oceans. In fact keep writing until you've rounded the earth 120 times.
It took 18 mathematicians, using large scale computers, four years to pull this off. What were they trying to do? In describing things like balls, cylinders, cones or almost any object, mathematicians think in dimensions beyond what we can see or feel.
Each color in a mathematical slice of a structure represents a dimension. University of Utah mathematician Peter Trapa and his colleagues have mapped 248 dimensions. "Mathematicians and physicists look for symmetry everywhere they can find it," Trapa said.
Imagine a mathematician describing the driving of your car on the freeway. "You have to describe the direction you're traveling, the north, east, west, south coordinates. You have to describe the speed. Already you're up to three variables or dimensions," Trapa said.
How about the temperature inside and outside, or the brightness of the day? The variables or the dimensions go on. And the more symmetry mathematicians can map, the more they understand about the object or what's going on.
Back to a structure they call E-8. "This particular calculation is just one component of a much larger set of calculations that this team of mathematicians is working on," Trapa said.
What is the goal way beyond E-8? It would be to mathematically describe EVERYTHING in the universe.
Don't think there's a practical side to theoretical mathematics. Your cell phone is a "trickle down" byproduct of what was once a mathematical theory.