In this third entry of Oxford Tutoring’s “Why do I Have to Learn This?” series, we will explore the link between prime numbers, and their applications in the real world.
Prime Numbers in School
One of the earlier distinctions students learn – as early as Grade 4 under the Common Core State Standards – is that between prime and composite numbers. At that grade, the practice is reasonably straight-forward, involving factoring numbers into their primes using factor trees. However, when put into practice, prime numbers stand among the most important parts of mathematics, and power important parts of our world.
Prime Numbers Power Machines
Diving into the technical, prime numbers, interestingly, help ensure our machines stay functioning. Everything solid has a “natural frequency”, a frequency at which it vibrates. These solid objects can be disrupted, damaged, or even destroyed through “resonance”, when something introduces another vibration at a particular frequency that will interact. We may have Mythbusters, or CW’s “The Flash”, in addition to physics classes, to thank for having learned about some of these ideas; however, they left out much of the math. As we said, primes power our world – literally!
Steam turbine shafts, for example, help generate the electricity that powers our world. Thanks to the fact they have moving parts, they have vibrations, and these vibrations can cause trouble for the machines. Excellent if we are expecting a Terminator-style machine uprising, not so excellent if we are expecting to keep the lights on. However, the use of prime numbers here – in this case, the number of the fan blades on these steam turbines – means less interaction between the machinery and those vibrations… which means the power stays on for us!
Prime Numbers Keep Our Identities Safe
… All of that may not be terribly exciting for us since we don’t see it. The lights come on when we flick the switch, they stay on, and we don’t need to worry about the mechanics. So what’s the bottom line for prime numbers, if we don’t directly see what they do? The answer is . . . the bottom line. That’s right, primes are directly related to money, and specifically to online shopping.
Making a purchase through Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, or the Microsoft Store requires a credit card, and keeping that credit card number safe is nothing short of paramount these days; no one wants their credit card number floating around the internet for anyone else to use. Primes are used to make sure that your credit card number is so obscured that no one would want to try to get it.
Granted, these are not the primes of elementary school (the prime numbers used easily have over a hundred digits!), but they are essential for security because these large primes make it incredibly difficult to decode. To put it in perspective, people have tried to break some versions of this type of security, and with hundreds of supercomputers at their disposal, it took them two years to decode an encrypted message. If you are anything like me, you are more likely to lose your credit card at home in that time than you are to have your credit card number decrypted.
Prime Numbers Are Apart of Our World
Who knew that what we learned in our elementary school days could have so much impact on daily life!
Be sure to bookmark our blog for future posts in this series, as well as our other series, on what you can do to make sure you are prepared for college, study advice, and more!
Meet the author: Jason, a Math and Computer Science Instructor has been tutoring with Oxford Tutoring for over nine years. Utilizing the student’s existing knowledge and a touch of humor, Jason strives to remove students mental barriers between themselves and the difficult, technical materials. He combines his years of tutoring experience and expertise in the fields of Math and Computer Science to give his students the tools they need to succeed in these challenging classes.
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