Questions from middle schoolers II: New numbers

Are mathematicians looking for any new numbers?

They are always looking for the next biggest prime number. We know that there are infinitely many of them, and we know some really big ones. Every so often, it makes headlines when a supercomputer finds another, bigger one. The goal isn’t to prove that there is another one; we know that already. The goal really is to test the computational power of computers, since all the undiscovered primes have many, many digits (in 2008, mathematicians found one that has 13 million digits).

Instead of new numbers, mathematicians are always on the lookout for new categories of numbers. Whole numbers, rational numbers, irrational numbers, imaginary numbers, transcendental numbers, etc. These are all categories of numbers that mathematicians discovered (created?) in the process of their work. Surely there are more to come…

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One response to “Questions from middle schoolers II: New numbers

  1. Largish prime numbers are also of interest in cryptography, where they can be used to fashion public and private keys for both encryption and authentication of messages. So, while “newly discovered” prime number may be too large to be useful, old discoveries are still finding new uses!

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