We’re excited to announce that one of our workplace hobbies recently contributed to a monumental discovery in mathematics.
Members of our team began building a supercomputer during summer 2015 as part of our 10% program that allows employees to use 10% of every week to work on projects that help them develop professionally. The supercomputer they built is 2400 times faster than today’s average consumer system, and it’s unofficially ranked as the 182nd most powerful system in the world.
Supercomputers can be used for a number of things, but the team joined their newly created system in a coordinated global effort to find the largest prime number ever discovered—GIMPS.
Big task, right? Months of research, infrastructure enhancements and computing paid off this month when a prime number consisting of 22,338,618 digits was found. That’s a number with more than seven million commas in it. The discovery came after 31 days of non-stop computing on a University of Central Missouri computer volunteered by Dr. Curtis Cooper, a professor at the university.
After Dr. Cooper’s discovery, our supercomputer went on a 55-hour sprint to verify the largest prime number he had discovered. The number is much too large to write out, but it is mathematically represented as 274,207,281-1. Written out, the number would stretch for more than 68 miles. The discovery is included in a rare class of primes known as Mersenne primes and is the first of its kind discovered since 2013. This number is one of only 49 Mersenne primes discovered in more than 500 years.
On a normal consumer computer, the verification would have taken months, but the Squirrels system cut this time to just over two days. The risk of an error in the initial discovery is around 2 in 100, but the verification done by Squirrels on different hardware than Dr. Cooper creates an impossibly small margin of error.
The search for primes is never-ending. There will always be greater and greater primes discovered as hardware and software capabilities continue to improve. However, the technology that is developed in the search for primes can have a huge impact elsewhere, such as protein and enzyme analysis in diseases and cancers.
Our supercomputer project is central to Squirrels’ goal in education to excite students and drive them toward interests in math and science. We plan to contribute to other high-profile research projects and not just continue research with prime numbers.
Other projects may include protein folding analysis to help find cures for diseases, deep learning algorithms for rapidly identifying cancerous cells in medical images and extremely detailed physics and chemical simulations to identify potential improvements in battery and other technologies.
For more detailed information and photos, read our press release.