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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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Stereographic projection in 3D.png
3D illustration of a stereographic projection from the north pole onto a plane below the sphere.
Image credit: Mark Howison

In geometry, the stereographic projection is a particular mapping (function) that projects a sphere onto a plane. The projection is defined on the entire sphere, except at one point: the projection point. Where it is defined, the mapping is smooth and bijective. It is conformal, meaning that it preserves angles. It is neither isometric nor area-preserving: that is, it preserves neither distances nor the areas of figures.

Intuitively, then, the stereographic projection is a way of picturing the sphere as the plane, with some inevitable compromises. Because the sphere and the plane appear in many areas of mathematics and its applications, so does the stereographic projection; it finds use in diverse fields including complex analysis, cartography, geology, and photography.

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diagram of a unit circle and several associated triangles whose side lengths are the values of the various trigonometric functions
Credit: Steven G. Johnson (original version)

This is a graphical construction of the various trigonometric functions from a unit circle centered at the origin, O, and two points, A and D, on the circle separated by a central angle θ. The triangle AOC has side lengths cos θ (OC, the side adjacent to the angle θ) and sin θ (AC, the side opposite the angle), and a hypotenuse of length 1 (because the circle has unit radius). When the tangent line AE to the circle at point A is drawn to meet the extension of OD beyond the limits of the circle, the triangle formed, AOE, contains sides of length tan θ (AE) and sec θ (OE). When the tangent line is extended in the other direction to meet the line OF drawn perpendicular to OC, the triangle formed, AOF, has sides of length cot θ (AF) and csc θ (OF). In addition to these common trigonometric functions, the diagram also includes some functions that have fallen into disuse: the chord (AD), versine (CD), exsecant (DE), coversine (GH), and excosecant (FH). First used in the early Middle Ages by Indian and Islamic mathematicians to solve simple geometrical problems (e.g., solving triangles), the trigonometric functions today are used in sophisticated two- and three-dimensional computer modeling (especially when rotating modeled objects), as well as in the study of sound and other mechanical waves, light (electromagnetic waves), and electrical networks.

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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