PHunterLau wins the challenge, but more STEM skills still needed
The Prime Challenge, launched by Microsoft Azure in November last year (291113) came to an end on Saturday (2903) with the user registered as PHunterLau being declared the winner. Over 400 people signed up to the challenge, but it was PHunterLau who emerged as the winner after discovering a prime number that was over 342,000 digits long.
“Thanks to everyone that took part in The Prime Challenge, and of course huge congratulations to the winner – PHunterLau,” said Steve Plank, Cloud Computing and STEM Evangelist at Microsoft. “We’ve shown that with a bit of determination, some computing resource and possibly a bit of luck here and there, we can advance knowledge in mathematics.”
“However, as an industry and a nation we must do more to maintain the interest in maths, as well as science, technology and engineering. We mustn’t allow the interest in STEM skills to continue to decline,” continued Plank. “This challenge has shown a critical intersection between technological components and skills.”
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The Prime Challenge was designed as a platform to introduce people to the way complex computing will all be done in the future: in the cloud. It catered to people with a casual interest in the topic, through to mathematically skilled coders. In fact, many of the participants of The Prime Challenge had never used cloud computing before, yet with their free Microsoft Azure subscriptions they were building and configuring servers. On the other end of the scale while many entrants used mathematical tools that already existed, such as Marcel Martin’s Primo, some wrote their own code.
“A challenge like this, which gives people a brief view in to how complex computing will be done from now on gives a window on the future and hopefully captures future generations of students who are currently turning away from the core skills required to drive the technology sector forward,” continued Plank. “These STEM skills drive the modern economy and the STEM experts will become the future business leaders.”
One example of the importance of maths in modern business is the role prime numbers play. Amongst other things, they are used to create public key cryptography algorithms and it is these algorithms that are used to secure nearly all online data transfers, including email encryption and bank card security. Almost every online purchase that is made will use prime numbers in its security process.
STEM skills are vital for the UK economy. Not only are there a growing number of jobs that directly require these skills – jobs in technology, science and R&D – but more and more of the economy now relies on the internet and other technology. Online shopping, banking and search means that modern commerce is effectively powered by STEM skills.
To highlight the huge gaps in the number space that The Prime Challenge hoped to explore Shoothill (www.shoothill.com) developed a deep zoom image (http://www.shoothill.com/DeepZoomPrime/). Using this visualization you can see when the record-breaking prime numbers have been discovered, the advances that have been made and the huge gaps between them.
The Microsoft Azure Prime Challenge was launched on 29th November (291113 – itself a prime number) to offer an interesting and exciting opportunity to have fun with maths. The objective was to find the “lost primes”; those prime numbers that have remained undiscovered in the race to always find the biggest prime. The challenge, which closed on 29th March (2903 – another prime number), was also intended to generate additional interest in STEM skills in an innovative way.