Nine important equations

Certain Uncertainty: Schrödinger Equation


9 Equations True Geeks Should (at Least Pretend to) Know

By Brandon Keim

Even for those of us who finished high school algebra on a wing and a prayer, there’s something compelling about equations. The world’s complexities and uncertainties are distilled and set in orderly figures, with a handful of characters sufficing to capture the universe itself.

For your enjoyment, the Wired Science team has gathered nine of our favorite equations. Some represent the universe; others, the nature of life. One represents the limit of equations.

We do advise, however, against getting any of these equations tattooed on your body, much less branded. An equation t-shirt would do just fine.

The Beautiful Equation: Euler’s Identity

Also called Euler’s relation, or the Euler equation of complex analysis, this bit of mathematics enjoys accolades across geeky disciplines.

Swiss mathematician Leonhard Euler first wrote the equality, which links together geometry, algebra, and five of the most essential symbols in math — 0, 1, i, pi and e — that are essential tools in scientific work.

Theoretical physicist Richard Feynman was a huge fan and called it a “jewel” and a “remarkable” formula. Fans today refer to it as “the most beautiful equation.”


I was glad to see that the first “must have” equation was Euler’s Identity (note that “Euler’s Identity” is the accepted name for this, not to be confused with Euler’s Formula or Euler’s Polyhedron Formula or any of the other amazing facts named for Euler). I think there’s large consensus in the math community that this is, indeed, a breathtaking equation. It may not be the most fundamentally important, but it definitely showcases why mathematicians delight in math.

I’m ashamed to say it, but I hardly knew any of the other equations. I knew Boltzman’s equation; Maxwell’s equations and Schrödinger’s equation have come up in some of my graduate coursework, but the others I hadn’t ever seen. One might argue that the other equations are not so important. (If you like arguing about such things, join those commenting on the article).  You should still look through the list yourself; how many of these equations do you know?

Granted, this was a general article that encompased all “true geeks” not just math geeks. But still, don’t we all want to be a true geek?

(Oh, and happy birthday to Johan (III) Bernoulli, who had no notable equations named for him :-))

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