There’s been a lot of maths news this month, but we’ve all been too busy to keep up with it. So, in case you missed anything, here’s a summary of the biggest stories this month. We’ve got two new facts about primes, the best way of packing spheres in lots of dimensions, and the ongoing debate about the place of maths in society, as well as the place of society in maths.
A surprisingly simple pattern in the primes
Kannan Soundararajan and Robert Lemke Oliver have noticed that the last digits of adjacent prime numbers aren’t uniformly distributed – if one prime ends in a 1, for example, the next prime number is less likely to end in a 1 than another odd digit. Top maths journos Evelyn Lamb and Erica Klarreich have both written very accessible pieces about this, in the Nature blog and Quanta magazine, respectively.
Oliver and Soundararajan’s paper on the discovery is titled “Unexpected biases in the distribution of consecutive primes”.
In this short series of articles, I’m writing about mathematical questions we don’t know the answer to – which haven’t yet been proven or disproven. This is the second article in the series, and considers a less well-known variant on an extremely well-known problem.
Ask anyone to name a theorem, and they’ll probably come up with one of the really famous ones, like Pythagoras’ theorem. This super-handy hypotenuse fact states that for a triangle with sides A, B and C, where the angle between A and B is a right angle, we have $C^2 = A^2 + B^2$. This leads us on to a nice bit of stamp-collecting – there are infinitely many triples of integers, A, B and C, which fit this equation, called Pythagorean Triples.
One well-known generalisation of this is to change the value $2$ to larger values, and go looking for triples satisfying $C^n = A^n + B^n$. But don’t – Andrew Wiles spent a good chunk of his life on proving that you can’t, for any value of $n>2$, find any such triples. The statement was originally made by Pierre De Fermat, and while Fermat famously didn’t write down a proof, it was the last of his mathematical statements to be gifted one – hence the name ‘Fermat’s Last Theorem’ – and proving it took over 350 years.