MATHS BITE: Apéry’s Constant

Apéry’s constant is defined as the number

{\displaystyle {\begin{aligned}\zeta (3)&=\sum _{n=1}^{\infty }{\frac {1}{n^{3}}}\\&=\lim _{n\to \infty }\left({\frac {1}{1^{3}}}+{\frac {1}{2^{3}}}+\cdots +{\frac {1}{n^{3}}}\right)\end{aligned}}}

where ζ is the Riemann Zeta Function.

This constant is named after the French mathematician Roger Apéry who proved that it was irrational in 1978. However it is still unknown whether or not it is transcendental.


The Basel Problem asked about the convergence of the following sum:
Screen Shot 2017-06-10 at 2.16.05 PM.png

In the 18th century, Leonhard Euler proved that in fact it did – to π^2/6. However, the limit of the following sum remained unknown:Screen Shot 2017-06-10 at 2.19.28 PM.png

Although mathematicians made some progress, including Euler who calculated the first 16 decimal digits of the sum, it was not known whether the number was rational or irrational, until Apéry.

Furthermore, it is currently not known specifically whether any other particular ζ(n), for n odd, is irrational. “The best we’ve got is from Wadim Zudilin, in 2001, who showed that at least one of ζ(5), ζ(7), ζ(9), ζ(11) must be irrational, and Tanguy Rivoal, in 2000, who showed that infinitely many of the ζ(2k+1) must be irrational.”

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Ulam Spiral

The Ulam Spiral, discovered in 1963 by Stanislaw Ulam, is a graphical depiction of the set of prime numbers.

If you were to arrange the positive numbers in a spiral, starting with one at the centre, then circle all of the prime numbers, what would you get? As prime numbers don’t have a predictive structure, you would expect to get little or even nothing out of arranging the primes this way. But, Ulam discovered something incredible:


Ulam Spiral

To his surprise, the circled numbers tended to line up along diagonal lines. In the 200×200 Ulam spiral shown above, diagonal lines are clearly visible, confirming the pattern. Although less prominent, horizontal and vertical lines can also be seen.

Even more amazing, this pattern still appears even if we don’t start with 1 at the centre!

There are many patterns on this plot. One of the simplest ones is that there are many integer constants b and c such that the function:

f(n) = 4 n^2 + b n + c
generates, a number of primes that is large by comparison with the proportion of primes among numbers of similar magnitude, as n counts up {1, 2, 3, …}.

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MATHS BITE: The Cantor Set

The Cantor Set is constructed in the following way:

Start with the interval [0,1]. Next, remove the open middle third interval, which gives you two line segments [0,1/3] and [2/3,1]. Again, remove the middle third for each remaining interval, which leaves you now with 4 intervals. Repeat this final step ad infinitum.


The points in [0,1] that do not eventually get removed in the procedure form the Cantor set.

How many points are there in the Cantor Set?

Consider the diagram below:

Screen Shot 2017-02-21 at 8.05.41 PM.png

An interval from each step has been coloured in red, and each red interval (apart from the top one) lies underneath another red interval. This nested sequence shrinks down to a point, which is contained in every one of the red intervals, and hence is a member of the Cantor set. In fact, each point in the Cantor set corresponds to a unique infinite sequence of nested intervals.

To label a point in the Cantor set according to the path of red intervals that is taken to reach it, label each point by an infinite sequence consisting of 0s and 1s.

A 0 in the nth position symbolises that the point lies in the left hand interval after the nth stage in the Cantor process.

A in the nth position symbolises that the point lies in the right hand interval after the nth stage in the Cantor process.

For example, the point 0 in [0,1] is represented by the sequence 0000…., the point 1 is represented by the sequence 1111…. and the point 1/3 is represented by the sequence 01111….

So, as there are infinite sequences consisting of 0s and 1s, there are an infinite number of elements in the Cantor set. If we place a point before any one of these infinite sequences, for example 0100010… becomes .0100010…, then we convert an infinite sequence of 0s and 1s to the binary expansion of a real number between 0 and 1. This means that the number of points in the Cantor set is the same as the number of points in the interval [0,1]. We conclude that the infinite process of removing middle thirds from the interval [0,1] has no effect on the number of points in [0,1]!

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MATHS BITE: Leyland Numbers

A Leyland number is an integer of the form x^y + y^x, where x and y are integers greater than 1. This condition is very important as, without it, every positive integer would be a Leyland number of the form x1 + 1x.

They are named after Paul Leyland, a British number theorist who studied the factorisation of integers and primality testing.

Leyland numbers are of interest as some of them are very large primes.

Leyland Primes

A Leyland prime is a Leyland number that is also prime. The first of such primes are:

17, 593, 32993, 2097593, 8589935681, 59604644783353249, 523347633027360537213687137, 43143988327398957279342419750374600193, …

which correspond to:

32+23, 92+29, 152+215, 212+221, 332+233, 245+524, 563+356, 3215+1532, …

The largest known Leyland prime is Screen Shot 2016-12-26 at 10.59.12 AM.png.

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