Below you’ll see a pretty sparky Sky News interview by Eugenia Cheng, a senior lecturer at the University of Sheffield. Just notice at the very end how jolly pleased with themselves the newscasters seem to be.
The new record was discovered by Dr Curtis Cooper at the University of Central Missouri. This is the third time that Dr Cooper has entered the record books, and one must hope that he is using his university’s spare computing power to do so. Indeed, this discovery was not done in isolation but as part of a global internet project known as GIMPS (Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search). You too can join in; just go to the GIMPS website, sign up, download the software and you’re up and running; or rather, your computer will be.
I don’t usually write news articles for Gifted Mathematics but in this case the prime news is to promote ‘citizen mathematicians’ who wish to participate in discovering new primes. And although records make news, one must not forget that between one highest prime and the next there could be acres of barren unexplored numberland waiting for the right person to find another prime gem.
The reason for this is that prime numbers are generated using different recipes. GIMPS is searching for Mersenne primes, which have the form 2p-1 where p is itself prime. But there are other types of primes and other online research platforms. PrimeGrid is another distributed computing project that actually runs a number of different algorithms in search of different kinds of primes. I’ll let PrimeGrid explain itself:
“PrimeGrid's primary goal is to bring the excitement of prime finding to the "everyday" computer user. By simply downloading and installing BOINC and attaching to the PrimeGrid project, participants can choose from a variety of prime forms to search. With a little patience, you may find a large or even record breaking prime and enter into Chris Caldwell's The Largest Known Primes Database as a Titan!”
As a fortuitous example, the PrimeGrid is running a special Valentine’s Day search program to find primes that have been lovingly named after Sophie-Marie Germain, an 18th century French mathematician. A prime p is classified as a Sophie Germain prime if the number 2p+1 is also prime. For example, 11 is a Sophie Germain prime because so is 2x11+1=23. But, as has been said above, as the numbers get ever bigger so the computing time required gets ever longer. This is where you and your computer come into play. The Sophie Germain Valentine’s Day Prime Challenge starts at 10:00 UTC – do I need to mention the date?
So, whether you join GIMPS or PrimeGrid or spend time with your loved one, have a Prime Valentine’s Day!
* Original image By Aurorablu (Kodak Easy Share) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons