# Unexpected Beauty in Primes

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2024-08-01 19:30:07

The significance of prime numbers, in both everyday applications & as a subtopic pertinent to all branches of math, cannot be overstated. We quietly rely on their special properties to carry the backbone of countless parts of our society — all because they are an irreducible part of the very fabric of nature. Resistant to any further factorization, prime numbers are often referred to as the “atoms” of the math world. As Carl Sagan so eloquently describes them:

There’s a certain importance to prime numbers’ status as the most fundamental building blocks of all numbers, which are themselves the building blocks of our understanding of the universe.

The use of prime numbers in nature & in our lives are everywhere: cicadas time their life cycles by them, clock-makers use them to calculate ticks, & aeronautical engines use them to balance frequency of air pulses. However, all of these use-cases pale in comparison to the one fact every cryptographer is familiar with: prime numbers are at the very heart of modern computational security, which means prime numbers are directly responsible for securing pretty much everything. See that lock in the URL bar? Yeap, a two-key handshake powered by primes. How is your credit card protected on purchases? Again, encryption powered by primes.

Yet for our consistent reliance on their unique properties, prime numbers have remained infamously elusive. Throughout the history of math, the greatest minds have attempted to prove a theorem for predicting which numbers are prime, or, how apart successive primes are in placement. In fact, a handful of unsolved problems such as Twin Primes, Goldbach Conjecture, Palindromic Primes, & The Riemann Hypothesis all revolve around this general unpredictability & uncertainty in prime numbers as they approach infinity. Granted, since the early days of Euclid we’ve found a handful algorithms that predict some placement, but general theorems haven’t been accepted nor did previous attempts have the tools to test large numbers. 21st-century technology, however, does allow researchers to test proposals with extremely large numbers, but that method alone invites controversy as brute-force testing isn’t quite globally accepted as a solid proof. In other words, primes have resisted any universal formula or equation, their appearance in nature remaining a status of seemingly-random.