Algebraic geometry is a branch of mathematics which combines techniques of abstract algebra, especially commutative algebra, with the language and the problems of geometry. It occupies a central place in modern mathematics and has multiple conceptual connections with such diverse fields as complex analysis, topology and number theory. Initially a study of systems of polynomial equations in several variables, the subject of algebraic geometry starts where equation solving leaves off, and it becomes even more important to understand the intrinsic properties of the totality of solutions of a system of equations, than to find some solution; this leads into some of the deepest waters in the whole of mathematics, both conceptually and in terms of technique.
The fundamental objects of study in algebraic geometry are algebraic varieties, geometric manifestations of solutions of systems of polynomial equations. Plane algebraic curves, which include lines, circles, parabolas, lemniscates, and Cassini ovals, form one of the best studied classes of algebraic varieties. A point of the plane belongs to an algebraic curve if its coordinates satisfy a given polynomial equation. Basic questions involve relative position of different curves and relations between the curves given by different equations.
Descartes's idea of coordinates is central to algebraic geometry, but it has undergone a series of remarkable transformations beginning in the early 19th century. Before then, the coordinates were assumed to be tuples of real numbers, but this changed when first complex numbers, and then elements of an arbitrary field became acceptable. Homogeneous coordinates of projective geometry offered an extension of the notion of coordinate system in a different direction, and enriched the scope of algebraic geometry. Much of the development of algebraic geometry in the 20th century occurred within an abstract algebraic framework, with increasing emphasis being placed on 'intrinsic' properties of algebraic varieties not dependent on any particular way of embedding the variety in an ambient coordinate space; this parallels developments in topology and complex geometry.
One key distinction between classical projective geometry of 19th century and modern algebraic geometry, in the form given to it by Grothendieck and Serre, is that the former is concerned with the more geometric notion of a point, while the latter emphasizes the more analytic concepts of a regular function and a regular map and extensively draws on sheaf theory. Another important difference lies in the scope of the subject. Grothendieck's idea of scheme provides the language and the tools for geometric treatment of arbitrary commutative rings and, in particular, bridges algebraic geometry with algebraic number theory. Andrew Wiles's celebrated proof of Fermat's last theorem is a vivid testament to the power of this approach. André Weil, Grothendieck, and Deligne also demonstrated that the fundamental ideas of topology of manifolds have deep analogues in algebraic geometry over finite fields.
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