There’s been a lot of news in the world of primes this year; a breakthrough paper-out-of-nowhere from Yitang Zhang on the distribution of twin primes (like 3 and 5, or 9929 and 9931) kicked off a season of super-productive work by mathematicians all across the world. I won’t attempt to summarize that work here, because I don’t understand it well enough to explain, and because Erica Klarreich has already done it with great vigor and clarity.
Her piece is actually about (at least) two pretty fascinating things:
- these recent advances in the mathematics of primes, and
- the contrast between the lone genius model and a more collaborative approach — both of which have proven effective here.
On the collaborative front, doesn’t this sound fun?
For the mathematicians working on this step [of the complicated collaborative process], the ground kept shifting underfoot. Their task changed every time the mathematicians working on the other two steps managed to reduce the number of teeth the comb would require. “The rules of the game were changing on a day-to-day basis,” Sutherland said. “While I was sleeping, people in Europe would post new bounds. Sometimes, I would run downstairs at 2 a.m. with an idea to post.”
More fun that tearing your hair out in your grim shadowed math-cave, for sure.
Finally, it’s worth reading this piece just to learn what the phrase “de facto admissible-comb czar” means.
Link via Trivium, reliably math-y and fascinating.