Quest has an assortment of clubs and one of them is all about math. Now this may not seem like the most interesting thing to some of you, especially if you are picturing a bunch of people sitting in a room of silence trying to figure out just what X decided to be this time (I think this sounds great, but hey, to each their own). As you delve further in to the complexities of numbers, however, you find that similar to many other subjects (potentially all?) there are many things that we just don’t know yet.
Some of the gaps in our knowledge are complex and would require a understanding of other complicated topics to know what the gap really is. However, others relate to things that many of us probably covered in high school math. An example of this is prime numbers.
As a member of the math club, Aaron gave a stellar presentation to faculty and students about the current state of the prime numbers field. Prime numbers are any number that are divisible only by themselves and 1 (1 is not considered to be a prime). As they become very very large (for example, 375680169568 x 2666669+1) they gain use in cryptography. If you have ever bought something online you have likely benefited from the complexities of prime numbers.
There are a variety of conjectures about how to predict and find new prime numbers. The ability to make these predictions is useful because as the numbers grow in size they take more and more computation power to find, making it practically impossible to simply have a computer test one number at a time. Some of these conjectures are the Twin Prime Conjecture, Cousin Prime Conjecture, and the Sexy Prime Conjecture (see mathematicians do have a sense of humour). They are conjectures because they have not been proven yet, but are thought to be true.
Aaron went on to explain the recent finding of a mathematician named Yitang Zhang, a professor from the University of New Hampshire. Zhang proved new insight into the twin, cousin, and sexy prime conjecture showing that their are an infinitely many primes separated by at most 246, with the hopes of reducing this number to 16 with further research. The Polymath project is also looking at these ideas, and if you’re intrigued by the potential to win 1 million dollars check out the Millennium problem that is offering a reward for solving the Riemann Hypothesis, another hypothesis related to the distribution of primes.
In light of the advancements made over the course of mathematical history, and of the progress that will likely be made in the future, Aaron decided to adjust a quote, to make it a little more accurate.
“Any fool can ask questions about prime numbers that the wisest man cannot answer” – Cambridge don Hardy
“Any fool can ask questions about prime numbers that the wisest man cannot answer…but this does not mean we will never be able to find answers” – Cambridge don Hardy and Aaron Slobodin