Counting Discussion Forum

Sep 3rd, 2015
Price: $10 USD

Question description

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

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School: University of Maryland

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Sep 4th, 2015
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