In 2013, a little known mathematician in his late 50s stunned the mathematical community with a breakthrough on an age-old problem about prime numbers. Since then, there has been further dramatic progress on the problem, thanks to the efforts of a large-scale online collaborative effort of a type that would have been unthinkable in mathematics a couple of decades ago, and the insight and creativity of a young mathematician at the start of his career.
Prime numbers have intrigued, inspired and infuriated mathematicians for millennia. Every school student studies prime numbers and can appreciate their beauty, and yet mathematicians' difficulty with answering some seemingly simple questions about them reveals the depth and subtlety of prime numbers.
Vicky Neale charts the recent progress towards proving the famous Twin Primes Conjecture, and the very different ways in which the breakthroughs have been made: a solo mathematician working in isolation and obscurity, and a large collaboration that is more public than any previous collaborative effort in mathematics and that reveals much about how mathematicians go about their work. Interleaved with this story are highlights from a significantly older tale, going back two thousand years and
more, of mathematicians' efforts to comprehend the beauty and unlock the mysteries of the prime numbers.
Vicky Neale is the Whitehead Lecturer at the Mathematical Institute and Balliol College, University of Oxford. A substantial part of her remit is public communication of mathematics. She has wide experience of working with students of all ages (school children to adults, via undergraduates), and of giving public lectures, and does various media work.
1: Introduction 2: What is a prime? 3: May 2013 4: It's easy to ask hard questions 5: May 2013 6: Making hard problems easier 7: June 2013 8: How many primes are there? 9: July 2013 10: What's so mathematical about my mathematical pencil? 11: August 2013 12: If primes are hard, let's try something else 13: November 2013 14: Generalise . . . 15: April 2014 16: Where next?