Researchers at Central Missouri State University have used a stable of 850 computers to find the world’s largest prime number. With 9.8 million digits, the number found by math and computer science professor Curtis Cooper and chemistry professor Steven Boone tops their discovery last December of a prime number with 9.15 million digits. “It’s another great discovery,” said Richard Crandall, a Reed University professor who developed the algorithm behind the software that the researchers are using. “The are to be commended for their good luck,” he added. The Electronic Frontier Foundation is offering a $100,000 prize to anyone who can find a prime number with 10 million digits. With only 850 computers dedicated to the search for prime numbers, of which there are an infinite number, the researchers would only be expected to produce a breakthrough finding roughly once a decade, Crandall said. The software is available for free and can run on anyone’s computer. The program runs whenever the computers are on, but it is a low priority so it does not interfere with the computer’s other operations. Each computer receives an untested number from a server in San Diego. Each computer takes about 30 to 40 days to test a number on the order of 9 million digits. Before Cooper and Boone made their breakthrough last December, just eight out of the thousands of people around the world running the software had come up with record prime numbers. Some 44,000 groups throughout the world are using the software on 71,000 computers. While Cooper and Boone have clearly had luck on their side, they also are the group with the largest number of computers, and they have limited their search to numbers in the 9-million digit range, while other groups chasing the prize money could be searching in the 10-million digit range, the researchers say (Source: ACM TechNews; Friday, September 15, 2006).
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