Department of Uh-Oh

Has the Riemann hypothesis in fact been solved?

A French mathematician is claiming to have solved a fiendishly difficult problem, upon which rides a million dollars of prize money. But other mathematicians are sceptical that he has really done it.

On Tuesday, Louis de Branges de Bourcia, a professor of mathematics at Purdue University in Indiana, issued a press release claiming that he has proved the Riemann hypothesis is true.

This proof is perhaps the most tantalising goal in mathematics today. If true, it tells us that prime numbers, which are those exactly divisible only by one and themselves, are scattered utterly randomly along the number line. If not, then mathematicians may be able to predict where the prime numbers fall.

For almost 150 years, mathematicians have been struggling to establish whether or not the Riemann hypothesis holds. And de Branges has claimed to have solved the problem before, only for others to later find flaws in his work.

“For the past 15 years he has been periodically announcing a proof and posting preprints” says Jeffrey Lagarias, a mathematician at AT&T Labs in New Jersey, who has followed de Branges’ work.

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