Prime Challenge hopes to plug the STEM skills gap

The Prime Challenge launched by Microsoft Azure in November last year has come to an end with a user registered as PHunterLau being declared the winner. PHunterLau emerged as the winner after discovering a prime number that was over 342,000 digits long.

The Microsoft Azure Prime Challenge was launched on 29th November (291113 - itself a prime number) to offer an interesting and exciting opportunity to have fun with maths. The objective was to find the ‘lost primes’; those prime numbers that get left behind in the race to find the biggest prime number. The challenge, which closed on 29 March 2903 - another prime number-- was also intended to generate additional interest in STEM skills in an innovative way.

One example of the importance that prime numbers play in business can be found in online shopping. Amongst other things, they are used to create public key cryptography algorithms and it is these algorithms that are used to secure nearly all online data transfers, including email encryption and bank card security. Almost every online purchase that is made will use prime numbers in its security process.

‘Thanks to everyone that took part in The Prime Challenge, and of course huge congratulations to the winner - PHunterLau,’ said Steve Plank, Cloud Computing and STEM Evangelist at Microsoft. ‘We’ve shown that with a bit of determination, some computing resource and possibly a bit of luck here and there, we can advance knowledge in mathematics.’

‘However, as an industry and a nation we must do more to maintain the interest in maths, as well as science, technology and engineering. We mustn’t allow the interest in STEM skills to continue to decline,’ continued Plank. ‘This challenge has shown a critical intersection between technological components and skills.’

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