Mathematicians have always been fascinated by the problem of describing all solutions in whole numbers x,y,z to algebraic equations like x2 + y2 = z2 .
Euclid gave the complete solution for that equation, but for more complicated equations this becomes extremely difficult. Indeed, in 1970 Yu. V. Matiyasevich showed that Hilbert’s tenth problem is unsolvable, i.e., there is no general method for determining when such equations have a solution in whole numbers. But in special cases one can hope to say something. When the solutions are the points of an abelian variety, the Birch and Swinnerton-Dyer conjecture asserts that the size of the group of rational points is related to the behavior of an associated zeta function ζ(s) near the point s=1. In particular this amazing conjecture asserts that if ζ(1) is equal to 0, then there are an infinite number of rational points (solutions), and conversely, if ζ(1) is not equal to 0, then there is only a finite number of such points.