Meaning of Mathematics

  Peter Winandy  

What is math good for?

Without math, many things in everyday life would look completely different or not exist at all. A few well-known examples of math applications include:

  • Internet Search Engines are based on mathematical processes and algorithms. You can test, just how targeted the processes are: Compare what pops on your computer and on a friend's computer, when you type the same search words in the same search engine. (You will need to have used the search engine before, for it can create a "profile" for you.)
  • CDs, DVDs, MP3 players and efficient image processing would not exist without processes for data compression. Deep down behind such processes lie mathematic theories and current research.
  • Cryptography: Secure encryption processes and the breaking of secret codes touch on mathematics. Here, number theory, a supposedly non-applicational branch of math, plays a significant role.
  • Computed Tomography: In the CT tube of a tomograph, the absorption of radiography by body regions is measured in various ways. Among other things, the density distribution inside the body can be reconstructed. The math necessary for this already existed, before the need even emerged from technology. This is one of many examples that shows how "pure" mathematics are suddenly applicable and relevant.
  • No modern airplane can fly without math, and no modern airplane could even be built without math. The solution to numerous control and optimization problems that arise here is still the object of mathematic research.
  • Banks and financial service providers are dependant on mathematics and stochastics for almost all financial products and services. Investment risks are analyzed; price models for modern financial instruments, such as options or credit default swap spreads, that played a particular role in the last crash, have to be found; and the information received from the gigantic data streams of financial markets has to be analyzed.
  • Insurance is a part of daily life, both in the private and economic sphere. The theory of probability (stochastics) and data analysis (statistics) are crucial tools in the insurance industry.

Mathematics is a key technology, without which most modern applications would not even be conceivable. High-technology touches upon mathematic theory the most. Mathematics plays a fundamental role in industrial research and development, finance, and economics. Mathematics is crucial when models and simulations replace consuming and costly test series, when predictions must be made, and is crucial to process analyses and optimization.

In addition to its application relevance and its usefulness, mathematics can be fun and exciting.


In 2008, the Year of Mathematics, the journal Mathematik ist überall?! (Mathematics is everywhere?!) was published as part of the RWTH Themen series. In the journal you can find further applications of, stimuli for, and information on studying mathematics in Aachen.