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Portal:Mathematics

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Mathematics is the study of numbers, quantity, space, 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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Mona Lisa with eigenvector.png
In this shear transformation of the Mona Lisa, the central vertical axis (red vector) is unchanged, but the diagonal vector (blue) has changed direction. Hence the red vector is said to be an eigenvector of this particular transformation and the blue vector is not.
Image credit: User:Voyajer

In mathematics, an eigenvector of a transformation is a vector, different from the zero vector, which that transformation simply multiplies by a constant factor, called the eigenvalue of that vector. Often, a transformation is completely described by its eigenvalues and eigenvectors. The eigenspace for a factor is the set of eigenvectors with that factor as eigenvalue, together with the zero vector.

In the specific case of linear algebra, the eigenvalue problem is this: given an n by n matrix A, what nonzero vectors x in R^n exist, such that Ax is a scalar multiple of x?

The scalar multiple is denoted by the Greek letter λ and is called an eigenvalue of the matrix A, while x is called the eigenvector of A corresponding to λ. These concepts play a major role in several branches of both pure and applied mathematics — appearing prominently in linear algebra, functional analysis, and to a lesser extent in nonlinear situations.

It is common to prefix any natural name for the vector with eigen instead of saying eigenvector. For example, eigenfunction if the eigenvector is a function, eigenmode if the eigenvector is a harmonic mode, eigenstate if the eigenvector is a quantum state, and so on. Similarly for the eigenvalue, e.g. eigenfrequency if the eigenvalue is (or determines) a frequency.

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animation of the classic "butterfly-shaped" Lorenz attractor seen from three different perspectives
Credit: Wikimol

The Lorenz attractor is an iconic example of a strange attractor in chaos theory. This three-dimensional fractal structure, resembling a butterfly or figure eight, reflects the long-term behavior of a set of solutions to the Lorenz system, three differential equations used by mathematician and meteorologist Edward N. Lorenz as a simple description of fluid circulation in a shallow layer heated uniformly from below and cooled uniformly from above. Analysis of the system revealed that although the solutions are completely deterministic, they develop in complex, non-repeating patterns that are highly dependent on the exact values of the parameters and initial conditions. As stated by Lorenz in his 1963 paper Deterministic Nonperiodic Flow, "Two states differing by imperceptible amounts may eventually evolve into two considerably different states". He later coined the term "butterfly effect" to describe the phenomenon. The particular solution plotted in this animation is based on the parameter values used by Lorenz (σ = 10, ρ = 28, and β = 8/3). Initially developed to describe atmospheric convection, the Lorenz equations also arise in simplified models for lasers, electrical generators and motors, and chemical reactions.

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