Wednesday, March 21, 2007
A transatlantic team of number-crunchers announced they had built a theoretical structure in 248 dimensions, resolving a 120-year puzzle that could be used to test theories about the structure of the cosmos. Top computer scientists and mathematicians from the United States and Europe said they had mapped "E8", a problem that was discovered in 1887 but has had to wait until the era of supercomputers and Internet-linked minds to resolve. E8 is the mother of all so-called Lie groups - a category of problems invented by a 19th-century Norwegian mathematician, Sophus Lie (pronounced "Lee"), to explore symmetry. Spheres, cylinders or cones are familiar examples of simple, symmetrical objects in three dimensions. But E8 is a piece of geometric origami that comes in 248 dimensions. "(E8) is as complicated as symmetry can get," David Vogan, a mathematics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), who took part in the calculation.