# Prime Number Puzzle Has Stumped Mathematicians for More Than a Century

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2024-06-10 08:30:04

While I was looking for a gift for a child’s birthday, a math book fell into my hands. I am always fascinated when authors write about abstract scientific topics for children, whether it’s on Albert Einstein’s theories, the life of Marie Curie, technology or space travel. But this particular book was different. It’s all about prime numbers—specifically twin primes. Danish author Jan Egesborg has endeavored to introduce children to one of the most stubborn open problems in number theory, which even the brightest minds have repeatedly failed to solve over the past 100-plus years: the twin prime conjecture.

As is so often the case in mathematics, the conjecture falls into the category of those that are easy to understand but devilishly hard to prove. Twin primes are two prime numbers that have a distance of two on the number line; that is, they are directly consecutive if you ignore even numbers. Examples include 3 and 5, 5 and 7, and 17 and 19. You can find a lot of twin primes among small numbers, but the farther up the number line you go, the rarer they become.

That’s no surprise, given that prime numbers are increasingly rare among large numbers. Nevertheless, people have known since ancient times that infinite prime numbers exist, and the prime number twin conjecture states that there are an infinite number of prime number twins, as well. That would mean that no matter how large the values considered, there will always be prime numbers in direct succession among the odd numbers.