Computers and Mathematics

Sometimes computers can be used for interesting, but rather useless, tasks.  It was announced that Curtis Cooper from the University of Central Missouri has used a worldwide network of computers to find the largest known Mersenne Prime Number.  It is over 17 million digits long (you can see the whole file here http://www.isthe.com/chongo/tech/math/digit/m57885161/prime-c.html).

So, what is a Mersenne Prime Number?  Let’s take a step back and answer the question of what is a Prime Number?  A Prime Number is a number that is divisible by only one and itself (the first few are 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, 19).  A number like 20 is divisible by 1, 2, 4, 5, 10 and 20.  A Prime Number like 3 is divisible only by 1 and 3.  A Mersenne Prime Number is named after the French monk, Marin Mersenne.  A Mersenne Prime Number uses the formula of (2^P)-1 (that is 2 to the power of P) where P is itself a Prime Number.  There are only 48 known Mersenne prime numbers.

So, this guy, found the first prime number found in four years.  Prime’s have no real significance in mathematics.  They are just unique and mathematicians are always trying to find the next one in line.

The Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search is a program that networks computers over the internet and uses their unused computing time to help find these Prime Numbers.  It’s an interesting use of computing power.  These networked computers form a super computer of massive proportions.  And it doesn’t come with the cost of a super computer.

So, what are your thoughts of using computers networked this way?  Would you be willing to put your computer out there to be used by the network?  What kind of security issues does this bring?  Interesting questions.  Love to hear what you think.

Check out GIMPS at http://www.mersenne.org/