Tag Archives: prime numbers

Ulam Spiral


Some of you may know what Ulam’s spiral is (I am not describing what it is because the present Wikipedia entry is awesome, though I mentioned it earlier also). When I first read about it, I thought that it is just a coincidence and is a useless observation. But a few days ago while reading an article by Yuri Matiyasevich, I came to know about the importance of this observation. (Though just now I realised that Wikipedia article describes is clearly, so in this post I just want to re-write that idea.)

It’s an open problem in number theory to find a non-linear, non-constant polynomial which can take prime values infinitely many times. There are some conjectures about the conditions to be satisfied by such polynomials but very little progress has been made in this direction. This is a place where Ulam’s spiral raises some hope. In Ulam spiral, the prime numbers tend to create longish chain formations along the diagonals. And the numbers on some diagonals represent the values of some quadratic polynomial with integer coefficients.


Ulam spiral consists of the numbers between 1 and 400, in a square spiral. All the prime numbers are highlighted. ( Ulam Spiral by SplatBang)

Surprisingly, this pattern continues for large numbers. A point to be noted is that this pattern is a feature of spirals not necessarily begin with 1. For examples, the values of the polynomial x^2+x+41 form a diagonal pattern on a spiral beginning with 41.


Repelling Numbers


An important fact in the theory of prime numbers is the Deuring-Heilbronn phenomenon, which roughly says that:

The zeros of L-functions repel each other.

Interestingly, Andrew Granville in his article for The Princeton Companion to Mathematics remarks that:

This phenomenon is akin to the fact that different algebraic numbers repel one another, part of the basis of the subject of Diophantine approximation.

I am amazed by this repelling relation between two different aspects of arithmetic (a.k.a. number theory). Since I have already discussed the post Colourful Complex Functions, wanted to share this picture of the algebraic numbers in the complex plane, made by David Moore based on earlier work by Stephen J. Brooks:


In this picture, the colour of a point indicates the degree of the polynomial of which it’s a root, where red represents the roots of linear polynomials, i.e. rational numbers,  green represents the roots of quadratic polynomials, blue represents the roots of cubic polynomials, yellow represents the roots of quartic polynomials, and so on.  Also, the size of a point decreases exponentially with the complexity of the simplest polynomial with integer coefficient of which it’s a root, where the complexity is the sum of the absolute values of the coefficients of that polynomial.

Moreover,  John Baez comments in his blog post that:

There are many patterns in this picture that call for an explanation! For example, look near the point i. Can you describe some of these patterns, formulate some conjectures about them, and prove some theorems? Maybe you can dream up a stronger version of Roth’s theorem, which says roughly that algebraic numbers tend to ‘repel’ rational numbers of low complexity.

To read more about complex plane plots of families of polynomials, see this write-up by John Baez. I will end this post with the following GIF from Reddit (click on it for details):

Prime Consequences


Most of us are aware of the following consequence of Fundamental Theorem of Arithmetic:

There are infinitely many prime numbers.

The classic proof by Euclid is easy to follow. But I wanted to share the following two analytic equivalents (infinite series and infinite products) of the above purely arithmetical statement:

  • \displaystyle{\sum_{p}\frac{1}{p}}   diverges.

For proof, refer to this discussion: https://math.stackexchange.com/q/361308/214604

  • \displaystyle{\sum_{n=1}^\infty \frac{1}{n^{s}} = \prod_p\left(1-\frac{1}{p^s}\right)^{-1}}, where s is any complex number with \text{Re}(s)>1.

The outline of proof,   when s is a real number, has been discussed here: http://mathworld.wolfram.com/EulerProduct.html