Such is the life of mathematician and physicist Henri Poincare, who postulated a conjencture that puzzles mathematicians and cosmologists for almost a century. |

"With the disappearance of the great French mathematician has disappeared the one man whose thought could carry all other thoughts, the one mind who, through a sort of rediscovery, could penetrate to its very depth all the knowledge which the mind of man can comprehend."

Paul Painlevé, Eulogy at Poincaré Funeral (1912)

was one of its leading lights in almost all fields - geometry, algebra, analysis - for which he is sometimes called the “Last Universalist”.Henri Poincaré Even as a youth at the Lycée in Nancy, he showed himself to be a polymath, and he proved to be one of the top students in every topic he studied. He continued to excel after he entered the École Polytechnique to study mathematics in 1873, and, for his doctoral thesis, he devised a new way of studying the properties of differential equations. Beginning in 1881, he taught at the Sorbonne in Paris, where he would spend the rest of his illustrious career. He was elected to the French Academy of Sciences at the young age of 32, became its president in 1906, and was elected to the Académie française in 1909. Poincaré deliberately cultivated a work habit that has been compared to a bee flying from flower to flower. He observed a strict work regime of 2 hours of work in the morning and two hours in the early evening, with the intervening time left for his subconscious to carry on working on the problem in the hope of a flash of inspiration. He was a great believer in intuition, and claimed that "it is by logic that we prove, but by intuition that we discover". |

”, using a series of approximations of the orbits, although admittedly only a partial solution, was sophisticated enough to win him the prize.three-body problemBut he soon realized that he had actually made a mistake, and that his simplifications did not indicate a stable orbit after all. In fact, he realized that even a very small change in his initial conditions would lead to vastly different orbits. This serendipitous discovery, born from a mistake, led indirectly to what we now know as chaos theory, a burgeoning field of mathematics most familiar to the general public from the common example of the flap of a butterfly’s wings leading to a tornado on the other side of the world. It was the first indication that three is the minimum threshold for chaotic behaviour. |

Paradoxically, owning up to his mistake only served to enhance Poincaré’s reputation, if anything, and he continued to produce a wide range of work throughout his life, as well as several popular books extolling the importance of mathematics.

Poincaré also developed the science of topology, which Leonhard Euler had heralded with his solution to the famous Seven Bridges of Königsberg problem. Topology is a kind of geometry which involves one-to-one correspondence of space. It is sometimes referred to as “bendy geometry” or “rubber sheet geometry” because, in topology, two shapes are the same if one can be bent or morphed into the other without cutting it. For example, a banana and a football are topologically equivalent, as are a donut (with its hole in the middle) and a teacup (with its handle); but a football and a donut, are topologically different because there is no way to morph one into the other. In the same way, a traditional pretzel, with its two holes is topological different from all of these examples.

Poincaré also developed the science of topology, which Leonhard Euler had heralded with his solution to the famous Seven Bridges of Königsberg problem. Topology is a kind of geometry which involves one-to-one correspondence of space. It is sometimes referred to as “bendy geometry” or “rubber sheet geometry” because, in topology, two shapes are the same if one can be bent or morphed into the other without cutting it. For example, a banana and a football are topologically equivalent, as are a donut (with its hole in the middle) and a teacup (with its handle); but a football and a donut, are topologically different because there is no way to morph one into the other. In the same way, a traditional pretzel, with its two holes is topological different from all of these examples.

It asserts that, if a loop in that space can be continuously tightened to a point, in the same way as a loop drawn on a 2-dimensional sphere can, then the space is just a three-dimensional sphere. The problem remained unsolved until 2002, when an extremely complex solution was provided by the eccentric and reclusive Russian mathematician , involving the ways in which 3-dimensional shapes can be “wrapped up” in higher dimensions.
Grigori Perelman |

Poincaré’s work in theoretical physics was also of great significance, and his symmetrical presentation of the Lorentz transformations in 1905 was an important and necessary step in the formulation of Einstein’s theory of special relativity (some even hold that Poincaré and Lorentz were the true discoverers of relativity). He also made important contribution in a whole host of other areas of physics including fluid mechanics, optics, electricity, telegraphy, capillarity, elasticity, thermodynamics, potential theory, quantum theory and cosmology.

###### Ponder this

What is required to bridge pure, non-applicable theories into applications?

Should research in abstract fields such as mathematics, philosophy, or logic be reconsidered as an avenue towards innovation? Any current examples?

###### Discuss

The main point of this article is to show how esoteric mathematics and cosmological physics are linked; two things that seems to be so far off from each other. Poincare's works tend to bridge theories and applications, which brings us to our question: what other basic, purely theoretical mathematical works that have had an outsized effect on our daily lives? What was the context in which it was discovered? What motivated its discovery? And are there any current theorems that may contribute to our lives in the same way?

###### Further readings

Henri Poincaré, a mathematician first and foremost, anything else is second.

Pure mathematics, a definition from the Conversation.

Pointcare conjecture, an example of a trans-mathematical work.

Grigori Perelman, the guy who solved it.