Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Euler's Formula

What is Euler's formula? What can I do with it?

First, the letter "e" represents an irrational number (with unending digits) that begins 2.71828... Discovered in the context of continuously compounded interest, it governs the rate of exponential growth, from that of insect populations to the accumulation of interest to radioactive decay. In math, the number exhibits some very surprising properties, such as — to use math terminology — being equal to the sum of the inverse of all factorials from 0 to infinity. Indeed, the constant "e" pervades math, appearing seemingly from nowhere in a vast number of important equations.

Next, "i" represents the so-called "imaginary number": the square root of negative 1. It is thus called because, in reality, there is no number which can be multiplied by itself to produce a negative number (and so negative numbers have no real square roots). But in math, there are many situations where one is forced to take the square root of a negative. The letter "i" is therefore used as a sort of stand-in to mark places where this was done.

Pi, the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter, is one of the best-loved and most interesting numbers in math. Like "e," it seems to suddenly arise in a huge number of math and physics formulas.

Putting it all together, the constant "e" raised to the power of the imaginary "i" multiplied by pi equals -1. And, as seen in Euler's equation, adding 1 to that gives 0. It seems almost unbelievable that all these numbers — and even one that isn't real — would combine so simply and be used in so many diverse applications. The physicist Richard Feynman referred to the equation as "the most remarkable formula in mathematics."

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