Microsoft Contest Uncovers Prime Number Over 324,000 Digits Long

Paul Lilly

Playing with prime numbers

There's a fascination among math enthusiasts with discovering prime numbers, and lucky for them, the world will never run out of them. To put that into perspective, the winner of a contest intended to introduce people to the future of complex computing in the cloud discovered a prime number 342,000 digits long . That's an immensely long number, though still nowhere close to the longest prime number ever discovered, which checks in at 17,425,170 digits.

Over 400 people signed up to participate in Microsoft's Prime Challenge since it launched last year. The contest is now over with a user who goes by "PHunterLau" emerging as the winner.

"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."

Microsoft said that many of the contestants had never used cloud computing before, though they made quick work of their free Microsoft Azure subscriptions to build and configure servers. On the other end of the spectrum, several participants used mathematical tools that already existed, such as Marcel Martin's Primo, while some wrote their own code.

What's the big deal with prime numbers? They have real-world uses, such as creating public key cryptography algorithms used to secure nearly all online data transfers, Microsoft says.

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