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December 9, 2003

Prime Time

Discovery Of The Largest Mersenne Ever

New Scientist, 15.11, December 2, 2003, reports that a 26-year-old chemical engineering graduate student, Michael Shafer of Michigan State University, has found the largest prime number ever. Weighing in at 6,230,430 digits, the new number took over two years to find, using a distributed network of 200,000 computers, and is of the class termed Mersenne primes, first studied by Euclid and named after a French monk who lived in the 17th century.

Shafer contributed spare processing power on his office computer to a project known as the Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search, or GIMPS, that has more than 60,000 volunteers taking part from all parts of the world. More details on the GIMPS Home Page, including information on how the project works and how to sign up and get involved.

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