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Million-Dollar Question: Texas Banker Offers Seven Figures to the Person Who Can Solve His Math Problem

Jun 07, 2013 02:02 PM EDT
Students complete basic math and customer service tests before their mock interviews during work readiness training at the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce in Los Angeles, California April 14, 2012.
(Photo : Reuters)

The American Mathematical Society announced that it is increasing the award for anyone able to provide the solution to the Beal Conjecture, a number theory problem named after Texas banker D. Andrew Beal, from $100,000 to $1 million.

A self-taught mathematician with an interest in number theory, Beal is personally providing the funds in the contest designed not only to increase the drive of potential problem solvers, but to help inspire the rising generation regarding what he feels is a fascinating and important subject.

“I'd like to inspire young people to pursue math and science,” Beal said in a press release. “Increasing the prize is a good way to draw attention to mathematics generally and the Beal Conjecture specifically. I hope many more young people will find themselves drawn into the wonderful world of mathematics."

The idea of encouraging people to answer the riddle by offering a prize came to Beal, he said, was derived by the prize offered to prove Fermat’s Last Theorem, which stood for 365 years before a professor of mathematics at Oxford University solved it in a paper more than 100 pages long in 1995.

Two years later, Beal announced his offer of what was then $5,000.

The Beal Conjecture is not the only million-dollar math problem, however; in 2000, the Clay Mathematics Institute created seven $1-million-dollar prizes for problems now known as the Millennium Problems. To date, only one, the Poincaré Conjecture, was solved, though the Russian mathematician Grigori Perelman turned down the monetary prize.

Currently, the longest-standing math problem is one first posed by Chrstian Goldbach when in 1742 he stated that every positive integer greater than three is the sum of two, though not necessarily distinct, primes. Nearly 260 years later, no one has succeeded in proving or disproving the conjecture.

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