Dien Rice

September 28, 2008, 10:49 AM

I'm a 'non-mathematician' but I'd really like to know why it's so important to find prime numbers and what makes that discovery worth $l00,000.00? What good is all that effort? TIA

Hi Sandi,

I think it just boils down to that people can spend money on whatever they want. If someone has a spare $100,000 lying around and wants to spend it on a prize for finding large prime numbers, they can do so!

Here's more info about the prize you're referring to... http://www.eff.org/awards/coop

By the way, very large prime numbers are used in something called the RSA algorithm, which is used in encryption. (For example, if you use internet banking, you'll notice the little "padlock" symbol in the corner of the browser, which indicates that the info you are sending and receiving is being encrypted, so the privacy of your data is safe. That's actually done using the RSA algorithm.)

You can read more about RSA encryption here... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RSA

RSA encryption works because if you have 2 very large prime numbers, it is very easy to multiply them to get another very large number. However, it is very difficult to take that very large number, then factor it to get the two primes out again. That fact is used as a basis for encryption that we use in our day to day high-security internet-based computing activities.

Another interesting bit of trivia is that if they are ever able to build a quantum computer of reasonable complexity, it will be able to "break" RSA encryption, because of how quantum computers are fundamentally different from regular computers. (More on quantum computers here... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantum_computer )

I hope that helps! :)

- Dien

Hi Sandi,

I think it just boils down to that people can spend money on whatever they want. If someone has a spare $100,000 lying around and wants to spend it on a prize for finding large prime numbers, they can do so!

Here's more info about the prize you're referring to... http://www.eff.org/awards/coop

By the way, very large prime numbers are used in something called the RSA algorithm, which is used in encryption. (For example, if you use internet banking, you'll notice the little "padlock" symbol in the corner of the browser, which indicates that the info you are sending and receiving is being encrypted, so the privacy of your data is safe. That's actually done using the RSA algorithm.)

You can read more about RSA encryption here... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RSA

RSA encryption works because if you have 2 very large prime numbers, it is very easy to multiply them to get another very large number. However, it is very difficult to take that very large number, then factor it to get the two primes out again. That fact is used as a basis for encryption that we use in our day to day high-security internet-based computing activities.

Another interesting bit of trivia is that if they are ever able to build a quantum computer of reasonable complexity, it will be able to "break" RSA encryption, because of how quantum computers are fundamentally different from regular computers. (More on quantum computers here... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantum_computer )

I hope that helps! :)

- Dien