# Genius Grant for Proof of Prime Number Theorem

Discussion in 'Current Events' started by Doctor Q, Sep 17, 2014.

### Staff Member

Joined:
Sep 19, 2002
Location:
Los Angeles
#1
Last year Yitang Zhang, a little-known mathematics lecturer, solved a major unsolved prime number problem, called the "bounded gaps" conjecture. He's now been given a genius grant by the MacArthur Foundation for his work. There's a good article about it here, and you don't have to be a math geek to understand it.

I'm glad that he's been recognized and rewarded for an amazing advancement in prime number theory. He proved that no matter how far you go in enumerating the prime numbers, you will never run out of pairs of prime numbers that differ by some predetermined constant N. He didn't identify the number N, but showed that such a number exists and that it is less than 70 000 000. His results tell us that the gaps between prime numbers don't become consistently more sparse and that instead there will always be "small" gaps between prime numbers.

What I find thrilling is that a theorem about prime numbers that was generally believed to be true, but that could not be proven for hundreds of years, was finally proved. Other unproven prime number theorems, such as the Twin Primes Conjecture, might yet be proved too.

I was surprised to learn from these articles that Zhang's talent wasn't recognized, even after he got his Ph.D., and he had trouble finding work. At one point he ended up working in a Subway fast-food restaurant! How many math geniuses have made you a submarine sandwich?

2. ### aaronvan Suspended

Joined:
Dec 21, 2011
Location:
#2
Was he nominated for a Fields Medal?

### Staff Member

Joined:
Sep 19, 2002
Location:
Los Angeles
#3
No, and he's not even eligible. The Fields Medal guidelines say candidates must be under 40 and he's nearly 60!

Prime number investigator Terrence Tao won the Fields Medal in 2006. He (with Ben Green) proved that it's always possible to find a sequence of primes of equal spacing and any length.

In contrast, Grigori Perelman had multiple problem-solving breakthroughs, won the Fields Medal in 2006, and declined to accept it!

4. ### SandboxGeneral Moderator emeritus

Joined:
Sep 8, 2010
Location:
Detroit
#4
Why would they restrict the award based on a person's age? If they've done great work and proven difficult, to near impossible problems, why should a person's age have anything to do with it?

### Staff Member

Joined:
Sep 19, 2002
Location:
Los Angeles
#5
I find it hard to justify the age cap. They might want to recognize early genius, like having an award for child prodigies, but age 40 vs. age 50 means little in terms of past accomplishments and future possibilities. And age 25 versus age 75 shouldn't matter if it's in recognition of an outstanding accomplishment.

The Fields Medal is considered to be the equivalent of a Nobel Prize in mathematics, and I read that the average age of a Nobel Prize winner is 59.

Andrew Wiles was just over 40 when he solved Fermats Last Theorem, so he was ineligible for the Fields Medal in 1994.

6. ### needfx macrumors 68040

Joined:
Aug 10, 2010
Location:
macrumors apparently
#6
my brain went into overdrive reading the slate article

thanks for sharing the info though

Joined:
Dec 21, 2011
Location:
8. ### Gutwrench Contributor

Joined:
Jan 2, 2011
#8
For a lack of employment he worked Subway? He couldn't land an actuarial position with an insurance company? There's likely more to his unemployment than meets the eye. Otherwise nice uplifting post. I'm glad for him.

9. ### gnasher729 macrumors P6

Joined:
Nov 25, 2005
#9
Subway = no mathematics. Actuary = lots of very simple mathematics. I could imagine that a top mathematician wanting to make some cash wouldn't want a job as an actuary. Like a concert pianist needing cash might be willing to clean windows, but not willing to teach children to plonk on their piano.

10. ### Gutwrench Contributor

Joined:
Jan 2, 2011
#10
An actuary can easily make \$150-275k. A friend with a doctorate of speech pathology and in mathematics works as an actuary in Ohio with a salary over \$250k. I'd sure think a top mathematician might lower himself for an actuarial job...or at least a patent clerk.

The original post said with a PhD he had trouble finding work so he ended up at Subway. I still say there's more to that story. Perhaps ESL or something else.