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University of Central Missouri
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Award from Prime Number Discovery Shared with Collaborators

Contact Jeff Murphy
WARRENSBURG, MO (Feb. 18, 2010) – UCM faculty members who gained national recognition for their back-to-back discoveries of two of the world’s largest known Mersenne prime numbers are sharing a $6,665 award with 10 university units that helped make the discoveries possible.

Curtis Cooper, professor of computer science and mathematics, and Steve Boone, associate dean of the College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences, led the research effort at UCM as members of the Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search (GIMPS) PrimeNet network. GIMPS is one of the organizations across the nation that competed for a share of a $100,000 Cooperative Computing Award sponsored by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The foundation sponsored a competition to recognize the first organization that could find a prime number that exceeded 10 million digits. Mersenne primes are currently the largest known prime numbers - a prime being a positive integer greater than one which can only be evenly divided by itself and the number one.

The 45th known Mersenne prime number known as M45 – a mammoth number with 12.97 million digits - was discovered Aug. 23, 2008 by GIMPS affiliate, the University of California-Los Angeles. UCLA received a $50,000 prize, and another $25,000 went to a math-related charity selected by GIMPS founder George Woltman. Additional funds went to some successful competitors, including UCM, which discovered world record Mersenne prime numbers twice in the past five years.

Major collaborators at UCM to receive portions of the $6,665 award recognizing the campus research team are Information Services, Student Affairs, Academic Enrichment, UCM Summit Center, Information Technology and Instruction, James C. Kirkpatrick Library, College of Education, Harmon College of Business and Professional Studies, College of Science and Technology, and College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences.

Cooper and Boone announced Dec. 15, 2005 that they and campus colleagues discovered the largest known Mersenne prime, a number with 9.15 million digits, known to researchers as M43. This discovery was topped by the same research team Sept. 4, 2006 with the discovery of M44, having 9.8 million digits. Today, this number is displayed on the south wall of the Elliott Union atrium.

UCM’s research into Mersenne primes began in 1997 with four computers and email communication. Today, the quest for even larger primes includes use of approximately 1,100 computers in labs and offices across the campus and the UCM Summit Center, which have fully automated communication with the PrimeNet server. EEF has sweetened the financial pot for GIMPS affiliates by offering $150,000 to the first individual or group to discover a prime with 100 million digits and $250,000 for the discovery of the first prime with at least a billion digits.

To date, only 47 Mersenne prime numbers have been discovered, and UCM is the world leader among institutions participating in the GIMPS project, according to Boone and Cooper.