Prime Numbers talk: audio and slides

Author: Iain Bethune
Posted: 4 Oct 2013 | 11:02

As mentioned in Alistair Grant's blog about our exhibition at the British Science Festival, I also gave a talk as part of the BSF Maths programme entitled "PrimeGrid: Join in the search for a world record prime number".  Audio and slides from the talk are now available so you can listen at your leisure.  

Well over 100 people attended the talk on the day and it seemed to go down well. For the pedants among you, I should point out that the reason that the RSA encryption algorithm works is not because it is difficult to factor large primes as I stated in the talk (since the only factors of a prime are itself and one), but because it is difficult to factor large composite numbers. Oops!

The talk covers some basic mathematics about prime numbers, why they are interesting to us, and a brief history of attempts using first pen-and-paper then increasingly powerful computers to discover larger and larger prime numbers. Finally I introduced PrimeGrid, the volunteer computing project that enables anyone to take part in the search for large primes using their personal computer.

Our current search for large Generalized Fermat primes is rapidly closing in on the world record prime number, currently held by the GIMPS project with successively larger Mersenne primes for the last 17 years.  We aim to take the number one spot within the next few years, so the more users who join the search the better!

If you would like to join the search please visit and you can be 'crunching' within minutes!

Thanks to funding from NAIS, I will be working on new and improved algorithms for the applications that underpin the work of PrimeGrid, so watch this space for updates.


Iain Bethune, EPCC

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