UCLA Spotlight




A mathematician in his prime: Terence Tao

  • Published Jan 8, 2007 8:00 AM

For mathematics professor Terence Tao, the 2006–07 academic year has been punctuated by honors and awards. In August 2006, he became the first UCLA faculty member (and the first Australian) to win the coveted Fields Medal in Mathematics. In September, he was awarded a MacArthur grant — popularly known as a "genius grant." In the October issue of Popular Science magazine, he was dubbed one of the "Brilliant 10" young scientists working in the U.S.

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Now the James and Carol Collins Professor in the UCLA College of Letters and Science, Tao will be lecturing Jan. 17 about "Structure and Randomness in the Prime Numbers" as part of the Science Faculty Annual Research Colloquium Series.

Prime numbers are an example of how "pure" mathematics can come to play an important role in everyday life. Prime numbers were known even by the ancient Greeks. (Eratosthenes, director of the library of Alexandria, invented a number theory tool that "sieved" for prime numbers.) For centuries, prime numbers continued to fascinate mathematicians and other scientists. But in modern times, primes have been put to practical use: very large primes are used as part of the complex security codes for credit card processing.

Take a minute (actually, 50 seconds!) to hear Tao explain how the Sieve of Eratosthenes works.