Surprising advance sparks flurry of work on mathematical conjecture
Some pan for gold, some pan for prime numbers. Yitang “Tom” Zhang may have found both.
Zhang, a mathematician at the University of New Hampshire, stunned the mathematical world in May when he reported a major step toward solving one of the oldest outstanding problems in number theory, called the twin prime conjecture (SN: 10/19/13, p. 38).
For more than 100 years, mathematicians have known that prime numbers — such as 7 or 17, with no divisors except for themselves and 1 — get sparser and sparser as the numbers get larger. They are like flecks of gold in a stream that is gradually running out of gold.