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Unformatted text preview: Structure and randomness in the prime numbers A small selection of results in number theory Science colloquium January 17, 2007 Terence Tao (UCLA) 1 Prime numbers A prime number is a natural number larger than 1 which cannot be expressed as the product of two smaller natural numbers. 2 , 3 , 5 , 7 , 11 , 13 , 17 , 19 , 23 , 29 , 31 , 37 , 41 , 43 , 47 , 53 , 59 , 61 , 67 , 71 , 73 , 79 , . . . 2 They are the “atomic elements” of natural number multiplication: Fundamental theorem of arithmetic: (Euclid, ≈ 300BCE) Every natural number larger than 1 can be expressed as a product of one or more primes. This product is unique up to rearrangement. For instance, 50 can be expressed as 2 × 5 × 5 (or 5 × 5 × 2, etc.). [It is because of this theorem that we do not consider 1 to be prime.] 3 Prime numbers were first studied rigorously by the ancient Greeks. One of the first theorems they proved was Euclid’s theorem ( ≈ 300 BCE) There are infinitely many prime numbers. 4 Euclid’s proof is the classic example of reductio ad absurdum : • Suppose, for sake of contradiction, that there were only finitely many prime numbers p 1 , p 2 , . . . , p n (e.g. suppose 2 , 3 , 5 were the only primes). • Multiply all the primes together and add (or subtract) 1: P = p 1 p 2 . . . p n ± 1. (e.g. P = 2 × 3 × 5 ± 1 = 29 or 31.) • Then P is a natural number larger than 1, but P is not divisible by any of the prime numbers. • This contradicts the fundamental theorem of arithmetic. Hence there are infinitely many primes. 5 While there are more direct proofs of Euclid’s theorem known today, none are as short or as elegant as this indirect proof. Euclid’s theorem tells us that there are infinitely many primes, but doesn’t give us a good recipe for finding them all. The largest explicitly known prime is 2 32 , 582 , 657 1 which is 9 , 808 , 358 digits long and was shown to be prime in 2006 by the GIMPS distributed internet project. 6 Twin primes Euclid’s proof suggests the following concept. Define a pair of twin primes to be a pair p, p + 2 of numbers which are both prime. The first few twin primes are (3 , 5) , (5 , 7) , (11 , 13) , (17 , 19) , (29 , 31) , (41 , 43) , . . . Twin prime conjecture: ( ≈ 300BCE?) There are infinitely many pairs of twin primes. 7 Despite over two millenia of research into the prime numbers, this conjecture is still unsolved ! (Euclid’s argument suggests that we look for twin primes of the form p 1 p 2 . . . p n ± 1, but this doesn’t always work, e.g. 2 × 3 × 5 × 7 1 = 209 = 11 × 19 is not prime.) The largest known pair of twin primes is 2 , 003 , 663 , 613 × 2 195 , 000 ± 1; these twins are 58 , 711 digits long and were discovered this Monday (Jan 15, 2007) by Eric Vautier....
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This note was uploaded on 01/04/2011 for the course HMATH 100 taught by Professor Vallambson during the Spring '10 term at BYU.
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