Millennium prime booklet


Booklet royalties to the Irish Cancer Society

MAA review

Irishman's Diary

Jerry Verrier's review

In this section I present:

The text of a circular letter to colleagues/friends about my booklet A Prime For The Millennium

Details for mathematically oriented readers

Text of letter of 12th October 1999, circulated to colleagues/friends:

Dear colleagues/friends,

I am writing to inform you of a forthcoming booklet of mine (published by Máiréad and Tim Robinson’s Folding Landscapes, my royalties for which I am donating to the Irish Cancer Society (Mr. James Cassidy, Irish Cancer Society, 5 Northumberland Rd, Dublin 4). Tim Robinson (artist, author, cartographer) will be known to many of you; less well known, perhaps, is that Tim Robinson studied Mathematics in Cambridge, England, in the mid-50’s. The booklet Folding Landscapes are publishing is called A Prime for the Millennium, and Folding Landscapes’ announcement about it may be viewed here.

The booklet may be ordered directly from Folding Landscapes, though it will also be on sale in some bookshops (there will be a launch in Kenny’s Bookshop, Galway, on Friday 3rd December 1999). Please feel free to circulate this to anyone whom you think might be interested.

For those of you who are interested, this is the background to the booklet:

Overnight last January 6th/7th I discovered - using mathematical ideas from 1914 of H.C. Pocklington and Maple software - what I called a ‘millennium’ prime, namely a prime number with exactly 2000 digits. Ivars Peterson, the mathematics columnist with the US weekly publication Science News, devoted his column in the issue of 16th January to it (his article may be read here), and the Fall 1999, 12-page issue of The Maple Reporter devoted its central pages to an article about this millennium prime (based on a Maple worksheet of mine – mill_pri.mws - which may be viewed here).  On January 7th I sent an announcement about it to the moderated Number Theory Mailing List (based at the University of North Dakota), and it may be viewed here, at the Number Theory Mailing List Archive.

On January 8th I wrote a long email to a niece (Jo) and nephew (Ben) about this discovery, told them why I wanted to explain it to them, and gave them an accessible explanation (based on what I felt was their intellectual level) which necessarily cut some corners. It was meant to give them some idea as to how mathematical discoveries (and discoveries, perhaps, in general) are made. At the time that was that.

This summer, as you may know, I was the fortunate joint discoverer – with Yves Gallot - of the "largest known composite Fermat number," and one of the many people who mailed me to offer congratulations (rightly due to Yves Gallot) was the well known cartographer/writer Tim Robinson. (Readers of his books will know that he studied mathematics at Cambridge, England.) With his note he attached an advanced copy of an article he had written, about prime numbers, for Marie Heaney’s Sources (which has just been published by Town House, Dublin; royalties to Focus Point). I sent him back a lengthy commentary, and forwarded to him the January email - which contained nothing of a private nature - I had written to Jo and Ben. Within a few days he sought my permission to publish this email - with title A Prime for the Millennium - as Folding Landscapes’ contribution to millennia literature.

The booklet contains an introductory essay by Tim Robinson, together with my email to Jo and Ben, which is faithfully quoted in its entirety except for the following (which perhaps would have been lost on some readers):

" If the Sun newspaper wanted to make a story out of this I suppose they could have a headline along the lines of:


and perhaps continue:

Prime Minister Blair today announced that as part of his plan to encourage closer relations between Britain and Ireland, the just discovered "prime of the millennium" (as it has been dubbed by the Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern (who went to school in the grounds of the College in which the Irish mathematician actually works)) will be printed on specially commissioned wallpaper to grace the walls of the Millennium Dome. The leader of the Conservatives, William Hague, immediately criticised the PM’s remarks, and wanted an enquiry established to determine why a British prime could not be used instead; he declared it was "yet another prime example of falling educational standards under the New Labour government." The Irish government diplomatically pointed out that the Irish mathematician actually has an English wife, and insisted that the discovered prime was in fact a joint effort. A spokesperson denied reports that the wife has unplugged the computer to prevent any more primes being discovered ... .

So, Jo and Ben, there you have it - the ‘inside track’ as it were.

Be good!! I don’t know when we’ll next get to Oxford.

Are you going to the Oxford-Chelsea game? I predict Oxford 0 - Chelsea 2. "

Ben wrote to predict a draw. Jo wrote that her Dad had said that if such were to happen then watch out for pink pigs flying over Dublin.

If you have been, then thank you for reading so far.


Mathematical details (which can only make sense to a reader who is well versed in the arts of Number Theory) - requiring quite detailed knowledge of congruences, Fermat's 'little' theorem, the Euclidean Algoritmm, etc. - may be accessed in two Maple worksheets (in mws or html format) of mine (one dealing with H. C. Pocklington's outstanding 1914-16 paper, the other with its application to the fortuitous discovery of a very specially structured 2000 digit prime). 
   Also, on Thursday 23rd March 2000 I gave a talk - A Prime For The Millennium - to the undergraduate mathematical society of University College, Cork; that talk may be accessed here.

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