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Best way to explain topology: now officially ‘using baked goods’

Nobel Prize news!

The 2016 Nobel Prize in Physics has been awarded to a trio of physicists: Michael Kosterlitz, Duncan Haldane and David Thouless“for theoretical discoveries of topological phase transitions and topological phases of matter”.

And here’s the maths angle – their work is in the field of topological physics, which relates strange matter (superconductors, superfluids and the like) to topology, via the interesting way the properties of the materials change in phases, like the different fundamental shapes of objects in topology. None of the material we’ve taken a cursory glance at so far yields a simple explanation of how these two things are linked, but they have explanatory PDFs on the Nobel website if you’d like a dig around: Popular (PDF) and Advanced (PDF).

Also, impressively many newspaper headlines seem to have failed to notice that ‘strange matter’ is actually a thing in physics, and consequently mangled it in their explanations.

Cue of course an amazing press conference in which Nobel Committee for Physics member Thors Hans Hansson holds up a bun, a bagel and a pretzel to explain the difference. Classic topology.

More information

Official Nobel press release

British scientists win Nobel prize in physics for work so baffling it had to be described using bagels, at The Telegraph (bonus points for ‘Noble prize’ typo, if it’s not been corrected yet)

Physics prize explanations on the Nobel website: Popular (PDF) and Advanced (PDF)


New Twin Primes found


Collaborative prime number searching website PrimeGrid has announced its most recent discovery: on 14th September, user Tom Greer discovered a new pair of twin primes (primes which differ by 2), namely:

\[2996863034895 \times 2^{1290000} \pm 1\]

Found using PrimeGrid’s Sophie Germain Prime search, the new discoveries are 388,342 digits long, smashing the previous twin prime record of 200,700 digits.

PrimeGrid is a collaborative project (similar to GIMPS, which searches for specifically Mersenne Primes) in which anyone who downloads their software can donate their unused CPU time to prime searching. It’s been the source of many recent prime number discoveries, including several in the last few months which rank in the top 160 largest known primes.

The University of Tennessee Martin’s Chris Caldwell maintains a database of the largest known primes, to which the new discovery has been added.

Further Reading

Press release from PrimeGrid (PDF)
The List of Largest Known Primes
PrimeGrid website
The new twin primes’ entries on the List of Largest Known Primes: n+1, n-1

Maths at the British Science Festival 2016


Next week, the British Science Festival will take place in Swansea, in and around the University. Here’s our round-up of all the mathsiest of the maths events taking place during the week. Our own Katie Steckles will be there introducing most of these events, so you might spot her at the front telling you what to do if there’s a fire. You’ll need to register to book tickets, but all the events are free.