Knot theory is the study of mathematical knots which cannot be undone.
The original motivation for the founders of knot theory was to create a table of knots and links, which are knots of several components entangled with each other. Over six billion knots and links have been tabulated since the beginnings of knot theory in the 19th century.
Archaeologists have discovered that knot tying dates back to prehistoric times. Besides their uses such as recording information and tying objects together, knots have interested humans for their aesthetics and spiritual symbolism. Knots appear in various forms of Chinese artwork dating from several centuries BC (see Chinese knotting). The endless knot appears in Tibetan Buddhism, while the Borromean rings have made repeated appearances in different cultures, often representing strength in unity. The Celtic monks who created the Book of Kells lavished entire pages with intricate Celtic knotwork.
In the last several decades of the 20th century, scientists became interested in studying physical knots in order to understand knotting phenomena in DNA and other polymers. Knot theory can be used to determine if a molecule is chiral (has a “handedness”) or not (Simon 1986). Tangles, strings with both ends fixed in place, have been effectively used in studying the action of topoisomerase on DNA (Flapan 2000). Knot theory may be crucial in the construction of quantum computers, through the model of topological quantum computation (Collins 2006).