Issue 12  January 2005 
Imagine putting in a calculation to your computer and getting a 7 million digit prime number as the result. That’s what happened to Josh Findley from Seattle, US. Mind you, he was taking part in a computing project called the Great Internet Marsenne Prime Search (GIMPS). The project involved over 200,000 personal computers and given that Josh’s “modest” contribution was a considerable 2.4 Gigahertz he just so happened to have going spare on his machine, perhaps it’s not so surprising he ended up with such a monster number. Prime numbers are positive numbers that can only be divided by 1 and themselves (not that we’d want to test that out on this one) but they are not so mysterious, even dinosaur sized ones. They’re used after all as a crucial component in the cryptographic schemes for secure online transactions (think about that the next time you order something on the internet). Findley's computer spent 14 days analysing the number before reporting the find. Two independent GIMPS members then verified it, using five days on a 16CPU cluster (basically a collection of 16 computers) in France and 11 days on a powerful server computer in Canada. It won’t be long before this record is broken however; The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a US internet campaign group, has promised to give $100,000 to the first person who discovers the first 10 million digit prime number. You have been warned! Source: www.abc.net.au

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