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Review: Closing the Gap, by Vicky Neale

Did you read Cédric Villani’s Birth of a Theorem? Did you have the same reaction as me, that all of the mentions of the technical details were incredibly impressive, doubtless meaningful to those in the know, but ultimately unenlightening?

Writing about maths, especially deep technical maths, so that a reader can follow along with it is hard – the Venn diagram of the set of people who can write clearly and the set of people who understand the maths, two relatively small sets, has a yet smaller intersection.

Counting From Infinity – A film about Yitang Zhang

zhangoldFollowing 2013’s amazing bounded gaps between primes result, mathematician Yitang Zhang has gone from an unknown maths lecturer to a mathematical celebrity. The Mathematical Research Sciences Institute at Berkeley has put together a film telling the story of Zhang’s proof, and his life before and after the announcement.

The film, which was funded by the Simons Foundation, has contributions from a large number of mathematicians, including Daniel Goldston, Kannan Soundararajan, Andrew Granville, Peter Sarnak, Enrico Bombieri, James Maynard (based at Oxford, who did further work to reduce the prime gap following on from Zhang’s), Nicholas Katz, David Eisenbud, Ken Ribet, and Aperiodihero Terry Tao, as well as Zhang himself.

Small gaps between large gaps between primes results

The big news last year was the quest to find a lower bound for the gap between pairs of large primes, started by Yitang Zhang and carried on chiefly by Terry Tao and the fresh-faced James Maynard.

Now that progress on the twin prime conjecture has slowed down, they’ve both turned their attentions toward the opposite question: what’s the biggest gap between subsequent small primes?

Bound on prime gaps bound decreasing by leaps and bounds

Update 17/06/2013: The gap is down to 60,744. That’s a whole order of magnitude down from where it started!

When Yitang Zhang unexpectedly announced a proof that that there are infinitely many pairs of primes less than 70 million apart from each other – a step on the way to the twin primes conjecture – certain internet wags amused themselves and a minority of others with the question, “is it a bigger jump from infinity to 70 million, or from 70 million to 2?”.

Of course the answer is that it’s a really short distance from 70 million to 2, and here’s my evidence: the bound of 70 million has in just over three weeks been reduced to just a shade over 100,000.

“Bounded gaps between primes” by Yitang Zhang now available

To complete the story started as a rumour report in ‘Primes gotta stick together‘ and confirmed in ‘Primes really do stick together‘, here we report that Annals of Mathematics has posted the PDF of ‘Bounded gaps between primes‘ by Yitang Zhang on its ‘to appear in forthcoming issues’ page. After the seminar on 13th May, Zhang apparently submitted a revised manuscript on 16 May, which was accepted 21 May 2013. So if you’ve been itching for details, here’s your chance (assuming you have access to a subscription to Annals).

Here’s the abstract:

It is proved that \[ \liminf_{n\to \infty}\, (p_{n+1} – p_n) < 7 \times 10^7 \text{,}\] where $p_n$ is the $n$-th prime.

Our method is a refinement of the recent work of Goldston, Pintz and Yildirim on the small gaps between consecutive primes. A major ingredient of the proof is a stronger version of the Bombieri-Vinogradov theorem that is applicable when the moduli are free from large prime divisors only (see Theorem 2), but it is adequate for our purpose.

The paper: Bounded gaps between primes by Yitang Zhang, in Annals of Mathematics.