Off the Screen: Counting from Infinity—Yitang Zhang and the Twin Prime Conjecture

Thursday, May 14, 2015 • 7:00 p.m.
Exploratorium, Pier 15 (Embarcadero at Green Street), Kanbar Forum

Included with museum admission.

Adults Only (18+)

Note: Note: West Coast Premiere. Screening will be followed by a discussion between filmmaker George Csicsery, MSRI Director David Eisenbud, and mathematician Daniel Alan Goldston.


Copresented with the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute (MSRI).

For centuries, mathematicians had attempted, without success to prove a seemingly simple conjecture in Number Theory, the Twin Prime Conjecture. In Counting from Infinity, Bay Area filmmaker George Csicsery takes a close look at the history of this conjecture and the exceptional—but unlikely—mathematician whose amazing discovery has brought us closer to solving the problem.

In April 2013, a lecturer at the University of New Hampshire submitted a paper to the Annals of Mathematics; within weeks, word of a stunning mathematical breakthrough spread. Yitang Zhang, a little-known mathematician with no permanent job and working in complete isolation had made an important breakthrough toward solving the Twin Prime Conjecture. Counting from Infinity is a study of Zhang's unexpected and unconventional rise from obscurity and a disadvantaged youth to mathematical celebrity. The story of quiet perseverance amidst adversity, and Zhang's preference for thinking and working in solitude, is interwoven with a history of the Twin Prime Conjecture as told by several mathematicians, many of whom have wrestled with this enormously challenging problem in Number Theory.

George Paul Csicsery, a writer and independent filmmaker since 1968, has directed 33 films, many about the lives and work of mathematicians. His best known documentaries are N is a Number: a Portrait of Paul Erdös (1993), Julia Robinson and Hilbert’s Tenth Problem (2008), Hard Problems (2008), Hungry for Monsters (2004), and Where the Heart Roams (1987).

David Eisenbud served as Director of the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute (MSRI) from 1997 to 2007, and began a new term in 2013. He is currently Professor of Mathematics at UC Berkeley and serves on the Board of Directors of the Simons Foundation. Eisenbud’s mathematical interests range widely over commutative and non-commutative algebra, algebraic geometry, topology, and computer methods.

Daniel Alan Goldston is an American mathematician who specializes in number theory. He is currently a professor of mathematics at San Jose State University. Goldston is best known for a result that he, János Pintz, and Cem Yıldırım proved in 2005, known as GPY.