algebraic geometry
the study of sets that are defined by algebraic equations.
[1895-1900]

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Study of geometric objects expressed as equations and represented by graphs in a given coordinate system.

In contrast to Euclidean geometry, algebraic geometry represents geometric objects using algebraic equations (e.g., a circle of radius r is defined by x2 + y2 = r2). Objects so defined can then be analyzed for symmetries, intercepts, and other properties without having to refer to a graph.

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      study of the geometric properties of solutions to polynomial equations, including solutions in dimensions beyond three. (Solutions in two and three dimensions are first covered in plane and solid analytic geometry, respectively.)

      Algebraic geometry emerged from analytic geometry after 1850 when topology, complex analysis, and algebra were used to study algebraic curves. An algebraic curve C is the graph of an equation f(xy) = 0, with points at infinity added, where f(xy) is a polynomial, in two complex variables, that cannot be factored. Curves are classified by a nonnegative integer—known as their genus, g—that can be calculated from their polynomial.

      The equation f(xy) = 0 determines y as a function of x at all but a finite number of points of C. Since x takes values in the complex numbers, which are two-dimensional over the real numbers, the curve C is two-dimensional over the real numbers near most of its points. C looks like a hollow sphere with g hollow handles attached and finitely many points pinched together—a sphere has genus 0, a torus has genus 1, and so forth. The Riemann-Roch theorem uses integrals along paths on C to characterize g analytically.

      A birational transformation matches up the points on two curves via maps given in both directions by rational functions of the coordinates. Birational transformations preserve intrinsic properties of curves, such as their genus, but provide leeway for geometers to simplify and classify curves by eliminating singularities (problematic points).

      An algebraic curve generalizes to a variety, which is the solution set of r polynomial equations in n complex variables. In general, the difference nr is the dimension of the variety—i.e., the number of independent complex parameters near most points. For example, curves have (complex) dimension one and surfaces have (complex) dimension two. The French mathematician Alexandre Grothendieck (Grothendieck, Alexandre) revolutionized algebraic geometry in the 1950s by generalizing varieties to schemes and extending the Riemann-Roch theorem.

      Arithmetic geometry combines algebraic geometry and number theory to study integer solutions of polynomial equations. It lies at the heart of the British mathematician Andrew Wiles (Wiles, Andrew John)'s 1995 proof of Fermat's last theorem.

Robert Alan Bix Harry Joseph D'Souza

Additional Reading
Phillip A. Griffiths, Introduction to Algebraic Curves, trans. from Chinese (1989), develops the topological and analytical properties of complex curves. Vol. 1 of Igor R. Shafarevich, Basic Algebraic Geometry, 2nd rev. and expanded ed., 2 vol. (1994; originally published in Russian, 1988), elegantly demonstrates the power of modern approaches to higher-dimensional algebraic geometry. Robin Hartshorne, Algebraic Geometry (1977, reprinted with corrections, 1997), is the best précis of Grothendieck's work in the foundations of algebraic geometry. Simon Singh, Fermat's Enigma (also published as Fermat's Last Theorem, 1997), gives a historical introduction to Fermat's last theorem and its proof.

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Universalium. 2010.

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