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How strange, old math could unlock nature’s mysteries

Former Perimeter grad student Cohl Furey suspects eight-dimensional numbers called “octonions” could unlock secrets of the universe, and she’s not alone.

When Cohl Furey was a graduate student at Perimeter Institute and the University of Waterloo, she came across some intensely peculiar mathematical objects: eight-dimensional numbers called “octonions.”

Discovered in 1843, octonions were regarded as intriguing but having no discernible use. But not everyone felt that way.

Over the years, individual researchers studying these mathematical objects developed a suspicion that they held a deep connection to mysteries at the very heart of the universe.

Furey is the latest in that tradition. As this long-read at Quanta explains, her work at the University of Cambridge is pushing our understanding of octonions, and could pull together fundamental physics and pure math.

“If this research project were a murder mystery,” Furey told Quanta, “I would say that we are still in the process of collecting clues.”

Read the full article, and watch Furey’s videos explaining octonions.


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