Discrete mathematics is the study of mathematical structures that are fundamentally discrete rather than continuous. In contrast to real numbers that have the property of varying "smoothly", the objects studied in discrete mathematics – such as integers, graphs, and statements in logic〔Richard Johnsonbaugh, ''Discrete Mathematics'', Prentice Hall, 2008.〕 – do not vary smoothly in this way, but have distinct, separated values. Discrete mathematics therefore excludes topics in "continuous mathematics" such as calculus and analysis. Discrete objects can often be enumerated by integers. More formally, discrete mathematics has been characterized as the branch of mathematics dealing with countable sets (sets that have the same cardinality as subsets of the natural numbers, including rational numbers but not real numbers). However, there is no exact definition of the term "discrete mathematics."〔Brian Hopkins, ''Resources for Teaching Discrete Mathematics'', Mathematical Association of America, 2008.〕 Indeed, discrete mathematics is described less by what is included than by what is excluded: continuously varying quantities and related notions.
The set of objects studied in discrete mathematics can be finite or infinite. The term finite mathematics is sometimes applied to parts of the field of discrete mathematics that deals with finite sets, particularly those areas relevant to business.
Research in discrete mathematics increased in the latter half of the twentieth century partly due to the development of digital computers which operate in discrete steps and store data in discrete bits. Concepts and notations from discrete mathematics are useful in studying and describing objects and problems in branches of computer science, such as computer algorithms, programming languages, cryptography, automated theorem proving, and software development. Conversely, computer implementations are significant in applying ideas from discrete mathematics to real-world problems, such as in operations research.
Although the main objects of study in discrete mathematics are discrete objects, analytic methods from continuous mathematics are often employed as well.
In university curricula, "Discrete Mathematics" appeared in the 1980s, initially as a computer science support course; its contents were somewhat haphazard at the time. The curriculum has thereafter developed in conjunction with efforts by ACM and MAA into a course that is basically intended to develop mathematical maturity in freshmen; as such it is nowadays a prerequisite for mathematics majors in some universities as well. Some high-school-level discrete mathematics textbooks have appeared as well. At this level, discrete mathematics is sometimes seen as a preparatory course, not unlike precalculus in this respect.〔(【引用サイトリンク】title=UCSMP )〕
The Fulkerson Prize is awarded for outstanding papers in discrete mathematics.
==Grand challenges, past and present==
The history of discrete mathematics has involved a number of challenging problems which have focused attention within areas of the field. In graph theory, much research was motivated by attempts to prove the four color theorem, first stated in 1852, but not proved until 1976 (by Kenneth Appel and Wolfgang Haken, using substantial computer assistance).〔
In logic, the second problem on David Hilbert's list of open problems presented in 1900 was to prove that the axioms of arithmetic are consistent. Gödel's second incompleteness theorem, proved in 1931, showed that this was not possible – at least not within arithmetic itself. Hilbert's tenth problem was to determine whether a given polynomial Diophantine equation with integer coefficients has an integer solution. In 1970, Yuri Matiyasevich proved that this could not be done.
The need to break German codes in World War II led to advances in cryptography and theoretical computer science, with the first programmable digital electronic computer being developed at England's Bletchley Park with the guidance of Alan Turing and his seminal work, On Computable Numbers.〔Hodges, Andrew. Alan Turing: the enigma. Random House, 1992.〕 At the same time, military requirements motivated advances in operations research. The Cold War meant that cryptography remained important, with fundamental advances such as public-key cryptography being developed in the following decades. Operations research remained important as a tool in business and project management, with the critical path method being developed in the 1950s. The telecommunication industry has also motivated advances in discrete mathematics, particularly in graph theory and information theory. Formal verification of statements in logic has been necessary for software development of safety-critical systems, and advances in automated theorem proving have been driven by this need.
Computational geometry has been an important part of the computer graphics incorporated into modern video games and computer-aided design tools.
Several fields of discrete mathematics, particularly theoretical computer science, graph theory, and combinatorics, are important in addressing the challenging bioinformatics problems associated with understanding the tree of life.
Currently, one of the most famous open problems in theoretical computer science is the P = NP problem, which involves the relationship between the complexity classes P and NP. The Clay Mathematics Institute has offered a $1 million USD prize for the first correct proof, along with prizes for six other mathematical problems.〔(【引用サイトリンク】url=http://www.claymath.org/millennium/ )〕
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