North Canton Firm Verifies Largest Prime Number Yet

NORTH CANTON, Ohio – To write out this number by hand would require a strip of paper more than 68 miles long, but Squirrels LLC, a software development company based here, settled for verifying its existence as the largest prime number discovered.

The president of Squirrels, David Stanfill, said Tuesday that his firm verified the discovery. “This is the first Mersenne prime number discovered since 2013,” he said, “and it’s one of only 49 found in more than 550 years.”

The discovery took 31 days of continuous computing by the Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search on a computer at the University of Central Missouri.

Once discovered, Squirrels verified the number twice by using different types of computer hardware and software, Stanfill said. The first took 2.3 days on an NVIDIA GPU, the other 3.5 days on an AMD GPU. It would take a typical consumer laptop “months” to perform the effort, he said.

The number consists of 22,338,618 digits and is five million digits larger than the prime number discovered in 2013. It requires more than seven million commas.

The largest known prime was calculated by multiplying two 74,207,281 times and then subtracting one.

“The risk of error in the initial discovery is around two in 100,” Stanfill said, “but the risk of matching verification done on different hardware finding the exact same result is infinitesimally small.”

George Woltman, a professor at Central Missouri formed the Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search 20 years ago this month to discover new prime numbers. A year later, Scott Kurowski enabled GIMPS to automatically harness the power of hundreds of ordinary computers to search for these “needles in a haystack,” as he put it.

Most professors and students who participate in the project do so simply for the excitement of the chase as the search for more Mersenne primes continues. There could be smaller prime numbers as yet undiscovered and “There almost certainly are more,” said university professor Curtis Cooper at the University of Central Missouri. He volunteered the computer on which the 22-million-digit prime number was discovered.

Why conduct such searches? “The technological improvements and software optimizations made in the search for this number will have benefits in many areas of life,” Stanfill said. “We’ll see reverberations from this discovery in technology, health sciences, education and more.”

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.