Thursday, April 17, 2014
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Nashua;41.0;;2014-04-17 17:22:20
Photo courtesy Nature magazine. "Tom" Zhang, shown May 13, 2013, in Boston, after news of his proof came out. There were no official pictures of him at the time, not even on his official UNH page.
Tuesday, May 14, 2013

UNH prof makes advance in *very* old math problem: How many prime numbers come in pairs? 

Prime numbers are cool, and infinity is cool, so the mathematics of measuring the infinity-ness of various prime numbers is exponentially cool, right? No wonder the twin-prime conjecture, which dates back to the ancient Greeks, is so interesting: It hypothesizes that there are an infinite number of twin primes (prime numbers separated by 2 - such as 3 and 5, or 2,003,663,613 × 2195,000 − 1 and 2,003,663,613 × 2195,000 + 1.)

Nobody has been able to prove the conjecture, but now word has come out that professor Yitang ("Tom") Zhang of UNH has outlined a proof of a 'weak' version of the twin prime conjecture. As Nature reports: "He finds that there are infinitely many pairs of primes that are less than 70 million units apart without relying on unproven conjectures." This sounds not useful, but getting the conjecture into the realm of a finite separation is a very big step. "The jump from 2 to 70 million is nothing compared with the jump from 70 million to infinity." as Nature notes.

I hope to talk to Zhang about this - and am much buoyed by the uniform praise he gets on RateMyProfessor, where he's described as funny and an excellent calculus teacher. I'll need all the explanatory help I can get.