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Computer Scientist Cooks Up New Math Notation

August 14, 2009

Like language, mathematical notation evolves. Just ask computer scientist Bryan Cook.

Despite the fact that the world of mathematics has about 2,500 symbols, Cook found existing mathematical representation both inefficient and insufficient for problem solving. Utilizing the skills of an artist-friend, Cook brewed up a number of new symbols, which he based on familiar-looking expressions. For instance, he devised a rounded, inverted L with an arrow at the end, pointing rightward, in order to simplify the expression of an operation that gathers the right-hand coordinates of a set of pairs of numbers. Another creation is an L-shape with a "greater-than" sign inside. It refers to a numerical relationship for a set of variables using a mapping.

"Historically, the abbreviation of complex texts has allowed some problems to be solved that were otherwise intractable," observed Patrick Ion, Associate Editor of the AMS' Mathematical Reviews.

MAA President David Bressoud said, "It will be interesting to see if they get picked up beyond the computer science community." According to Cook, the signs are positive. More than 100 colleagues and students who have seen his notation have easily comprehended their meanings. Cook hopes to have the new symbols integrated in LaTeX, after which his plan is to see what else needs simplification. Cook added that he might set out to invent some more and that, "color may come in, and as technology advances, maybe even animation."

Source: Science, July 24

Start Date: 
Friday, August 14, 2009