A key creative breakthrough occurred when Emory mathematicians Ken Ono, left, and Zach Kent were hiking. As they walked, they noticed patterns in clumps of trees and began thinking about what it would be like to “walk” amid partition numbers.
By Carol Clark
For centuries, some of the greatest names in math have tried to make sense of partition numbers, the basis for adding and counting. Many mathematicians added major pieces to the puzzle, but all of them fell short of a full theory to explain partitions. Instead, their work raised more questions about this fundamental area of math.
Emory mathematician Ken Ono is unveiling new theories that answer these famous old questions.
Ono and his research team have discovered that partition numbers behave like fractals. They have unlocked the divisibility properties of partitions, and developed a mathematical theory for “seeing” their infinitely repeating superstructure. And they have devised the first finite formula to calculate the partitions of any number.
“Our work brings completely new ideas to the problems,” says Ono, who will explain the findings at an Emory math conference this weekend. “We prove that partition numbers are ‘fractal’ for every prime. These numbers, in a way we make precise, are self-similar in a shocking way. Our ‘zooming’ procedure resolves several open conjectures, and it will change how mathematicians study partitions.”