Ever since Euclid proved that
there is no largest prime number, mathematicians have spent a lot of
time and energy searching for massive prime numbers. Awards are even
given for this, but it’s not really about the money to them. They’ve
received grants for doing this work, they take pride in doing so, and
there seems to be some academic competition involved as well.
What is a prime number?
A prime number is only divisible by 1 and itself. The first few are
2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, and the list goes on infinitely. All primes can
be written in the form 2n -1, where n is an integer, but not all numbers calculated with that formula are prime.
For example, for n = 3, 23 - 1 = 7, and 7 is prime. However, for n = 4, 24
- 1 = 15, and 15 is not prime. In January of 2013, one of the leaders
in the field used a single powerful computer, along with thousands of
PC's owned by people like you and me (the same people who donate their
PC's computing power to search for SETI signals), and determined a world
record prime number containing 17,425,170 digits. The actual number is
calculated 257,885,161 - 1. Try putting that one in your calculator.
My questions for you are:
- Why would they do this? Don't these brilliant mathematicians have better things to do, like solving world hunger?
- What’s to gain from this endless search?
For more information on the search for massive prime numbers, see these resources:
Twelve-year Search Uncovers Two Massive Prime Numbers
Video: Why I Fell in Love with Monster Prime Numbers