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Kash Balachandran : The Kakeya Conjecture

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In 1917, Soichi Kakeya posed the question: What is the smallest amount of area required to continuously rotate a unit line segment in the plane by a full rotation? Inpsired by this, what is the smallest measure of a set in $\mathbb{R}^n$ that contains a unit line segment in every direction? Such sets are called Kakeya sets, and can be shown to have arbitrarily small measure w.r.t. n-dimensional Lebesgue measure [and in fact, measure zero]. The Kakeya conjecture asserts that the Hausdorff and Minkowski dimension of these sets in $\mathbb{R}^n$ is $n$. In this talk, I will introduce at a very elementary level the machinery necessary to understand what the Kakeya conjecture is asking, and how the Kakeya conjecture has consequences for fields diverse as multidimensional Fourier summation, wave equations, Dirichlet series in analytic number theory, and random number generation. I'll also touch on how tools from various mathematical disciplines from additive combinatorics and algebraic geometry to multiscale analysis and heat flow can be used to obtain partial results to this problem. The talk will be geared towards a general audience.

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