Date: May 24, 2013 4:18 PM
Author: Sam Wormley
Subject: An Unheralded Breakthrough: The Rosetta Stone of Mathematics

An Unheralded Breakthrough: The Rosetta Stone of Mathematics

> Deligne?s most spectacular results are on the interface of two areas
> of mathematics: number theory and geometry. At first glance, the two
> subjects appear to be light-years apart. As the name suggests, number
> theory is the study of numbers, such as the familiar natural numbers
> (1, 2, 3, and so on) and fractions, or more exotic ones, such as the
> square root of two. Geometry, on the other hand, studies shapes, such
> as the sphere or the surface of a donut. But French mathematician
> André Weil had a penetrating insight that the two subjects are in
> fact closely related. In 1940, while Weil was imprisoned for refusing
> to serve in the army during World War II, he sent a letter to his
> sister Simone Weil, a noted philosopher, in which he articulated his
> vision of a mathematical Rosetta stone. Weil suggested that sentences
> written in the language of number theory could be translated into the
> language of geometry, and vice versa. ?Nothing is more fertile than
> these illicit liaisons,? he wrote to his sister about the unexpected
> links he uncovered between the two subjects; ?nothing gives more
> pleasure to the connoisseur.? And the key to his groundbreaking idea
> was something we encounter everyday when we look at the clock.