Shirali, Shailesh
(2018)
The constants of mathematics.
At Right Angles, 7 (2).
pp. 1927.
Abstract
Science is full of constants. Probably the best known
such constant is the velocity of light (c), made
famous by Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity. (He
postulated that all observers measuring the velocity of light in vacuum would obtain the same figure, regardless of their own velocity.) Other such constants, slightly less famous, are Planck’s constant (h), the gravitational constant (G) which occurs in Newton’s law of universal gravitation, the charge of the electron (e), the mass of the electron (m e ) and the mass of the proton (m p ). All these constants have units (so their values depend on the system of measurement), but there are also constants which are ‘dimensionless’. For example, we have the ‘finestructure constant’ α (also known as Sommerfeld’s constant; it concerns the strength of the electromagnetic interaction between elementary charged particles) and constants like 3 (the number of independent dimensions of space) and 2 (which occurs as the exponent in so many force laws, e.g., Newton’s universal law ofgravitation).
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