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Prime numbers are a mathematical mystery.

Despite many prominent mathematicians


deriving equations to produce prime numbers, there is really no concrete way to find all prime
numbers. From Math Apps this past semester and from reading Math Girls, I have become very
interested in prime numbers. I have gathered what I learned from Math Apps and Math Girls as
well as conducted some other research to provide insight into the quest to solve the mystery of
prime numbers and why they are so useful in our modern world.

A Very Impractical Way to Find Prime Numbers:

You can find primes using the Sieve of Eratosthenes. We practiced this in Math Apps and I read
about it in Math Girls. Here is an example of it that we did in Math Apps, sifting out all of the
multiples each number until we found all the primes up to 432. The prime numbers are
highlighted in blue.

Figure 1
Math Girls illustrated the idea of the sieve beautifully, if another visual helps you to imagine this
way of finding primes. The prime numbers can fall all the way down through the sieve because
they do not have any factors.

Figure 2

The issue with this method is that it is slow and impractical for finding HUGE prime numbers.
Many mathematicians have created equations to make finding prime numbers painless.

Mathematician Attempts to Find Primes:

n
Marin Mersenne (French mathematician, 1588-1648) found that Mn = 2 - 1 generates
prime numbers, where n is any integer. It is not known whether Mersenne primes are
infinite. However, this equation does not work for all integers. Heres an example:

Figure 3

As you can see, this works when integers 2, 3, and 5 are inputted into the equation, however
not when 4 is inputted. That is why some primes are categorized as Mersenne primes, because
it does not generate all primes.
Sophie Germain (French mathematician, 1776-1831) said that if p is a prime number,
and 2p+1 also generates a prime number, then p is a Sophie Germain prime. This is a
way that prime numbers are categorized. Here are some examples:

Figure 4

This seems to work until you input 7 and get 15 , which is not a prime number. This is the
reason some primes are Sophie Germain primes and others are not, making Sophie Germain
primes special.
Leonhard Euler (Swiss mathematician, 1707-1783) derived the equation
P(n) = n2 + n + 41 to generate primes, where n an integer. But yet again it does not work
for all integers. Here is a chart of this equation for all positive integers up to 74. The
composite (not prime) results are underlined in red.

Figure 5
Stanislaw Ulam (Polish-American mathematician, 1909-1984) created the Ulam Spiral,
which is a visual representation of prime numbers that sort of creates a pattern. Fun fact,
he found this pattern while doodling during a boring lecture! The pattern can be found
when overlaying Eulers equation: P(n) = n2 + n + 41.

Figure 6

Obviously, not all primes are included in this spiral (the lighter gray dots are also primes), but it
is cool that there is some visible pattern and that it appears to not be totally random.

There is no Conclusion:

The above mathematicians are not the only people who have embarked on solving the
prime mystery, and there are many, many more that I did not even mention (Fermat and Escott
are also famous, just to name a few). The real takeaway is that we have not come up with a way
to generate every single prime number, and that is why it is a mystery. Even though this is very
frustrating, I think it is really cool that there are mysteries in a system that seems so predictable
and concrete. Who knows, maybe you will see me in the newspaper 40 years from now with a
new way to find prime numbers.

Why Primes are Important in the Real World:

Prime numbers are used in cryptography. Now I admit, I dont know very much about
cryptography, so I have asked my friend Rob Vitali to help me out. I interviewed him and asked
him to explain how prime numbers are used in cryptography. I am going to try and show my
general understanding of the subject and explain what Rob taught me below:

The reason that prime numbers are useful is because there are only two factors, the number
and one. When you have composite numbers, there are multiple factors so these keys can
repeat. So someone can unintentionally decode something because the factors are available.
When you privatize something, it is privatized in a piece of code that can be repeated. But when
you have a prime number the only way to repeat it is to find the prime number.

I mostly understood this explanation, besides his mention of keys. He tried to explain this
key concept to me, but it is very complicated. I think I got the gist though. So computer codes
are made up of keys. Lets say one key is 1, 2, and 3 or a, b, and c. The numbers or letters in
the keys get replaced with other numbers and letters, and thats how people hack. My
understanding is that if you use a prime number in your key, it is very difficult to figure out the
factors to plug in that break the key open.

The advantage of using prime numbers is the factors dont correlate with an unintentional
number that someone just tries to plug in. The reason you dont want to use a non-prime
number is because theres repetition in code that can decode something unintentionally. So you
are trying to make something private and you use the number 12 for example, which has factors
of 2, 2, and 3. So lets say a hacker is trying to decode something you have so they use the
number 6. Since 6 has factors of 2 and 3, certain things are going to be able to be decoded. Not
everything will be decoded correctly, but certain things will be unencrypted because it has the
same factors. But since prime numbers dont have the other factors, you are going to have to
find that exact prime number in order to decode.

My next question was about the enormous primes that people get paid to find. We talked
in Math Apps about the contests offering hundreds of thousands of dollars to the person who
discovers the largest prime number. The largest known prime number currently is 22,338,618
digits, or 274,207,281
1, and was found on January 25th in the Great Internet Mersenne Prime
Search. The reason these prime numbers are valuable is, Youre not going to think of a
gigantic prime number thats in the trillions. Someone would have to create a program to go
from one prime number to the next and check them all and do all of the steps.

Big Take Away: My next quest should be to find gigantic primes and sell them -- I would
make a ton of money.

Works Cited

"Largest known prime number." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 01 Feb. 2017.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Largest_known_prime_number.

"Leonhard Euler." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 29 Jan. 2017.


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leonhard_Euler.

"Mersenne Prime." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 29 Jan. 2017.


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mersenne_prime.

"Sophie Germain Prime." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 29 Jan. 2017.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sophie_Germain_prime.

"Stanislaw Ulam." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 29 Jan. 2017.


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanislaw_Ulam.

Yki, Hiroshi, and Tony Gonzalez. Math Girls Talk About Integers: Fundamental Skills for
Advanced Mathematics. Austin, TX: Bento , 2014. Print.