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Standing Ovations For Doing Mathematics?

Have you ever see a math teacher or a mathematician ever receive a standing ovation...for showing some interesting mathematics?

For example, when Andrew Wiles completed his proof of Fermat's Last Conjecture at a conference in June of 1995, he received a standing ovation...and lots of aclaim via the news service. He even was pictured in People magazine, having solve a 358-year old math problem!

Then, there is always the story of Frank Nelson Cole (1861 – 1926), an American mathematician educated at Harvard and a lecturer on mathematics from 1885 to 1887. Later, Cole was a mathematics professor at the University of Michigan and Columbia University, while also being secretary of the American Mathematical Society in 1895.

In 1903, Cole gave an unusual "talk" at a AMS meeting. At the start, he went to the chalkboard and without saying a word, he calculated the value of the Mersenne number 267-1 by hand multiplication...the end result equaling 147,573,952,589,676,412,927.

Then, Cole walked to a chalkboard on another wall in the room and wrote 193,707,721 × 761,838,257,287. Again, he did this multiplication by hand in front of the audience. He then silently pointed to show that the two results were equal, and sat down after his hour-long tedious calculations.

The audience of mathematicians erupted with a standing ovation. Why? Because in 1876, Édouard Lucas had proved the Mersenne number 267-1 was not prime and had factors, but no one had been able to produce those factors...until Cole's "talk."

Sometime after the conference and his ten-minutes of fame, Cole admitted that his own finding of the two factors had taken "three years of Sundays."