A map of one of the strangest and most complex entities in mathematics should be a powerful new tool for both mathematicians and physicists pursuing a unified theory of space, time and matter. The strange ‘thing’ that has been mapped is a ‘Lie group’ called E8 — a set of maths that describes the symmetry of an (unimaginable to most) 57-dimensional object.
The creation of this map, which took 77 hours on a supercomputer, resulted in a matrix of 453,060 ? 453,060 cells, containing more than 205 billion entries — “all related in intricate and complex ways”, says Jeffrey Adams, the project leader and a mathematician at the University of Maryland. This represents 60 gigabytes of data, enough data to store 45 days of MP3 music files, or fill a piece of paper the size of Manhattan (about 60 square kilometres). The human genome takes up 1 gigabyte.
The finished product is essentially a database of information, which should come in very handy to theoretical physicists tackling grand unified theories of everything. “Now that it’s done, mathematicians and physicists can use the results very easily,” says Ian Stewart of the University of Warwick, UK. Adams agrees: “It’s going to be a fabulous tool.”