Edson Smith is a Computing Resource Manager at University of California, Los Angeles (with over 26 years of IT experience, as of 2009) working in the Mathematics Department (for 10 years) and overseeing the Computer Lab for the department's Program in Computing. In 2007, he replaced the Lab's screen savers with Prime95. In August 2008, one of these computers found a World record prime number.
He stated, in interview for a UCLA campus publication, "We knew we had lots and lots of computers down here that weren't doing anything 99.9 percent of the time. They were just running idle. And we were looking for something useful for them to do." The PIC lab has about 75 computers which often go unused. So, he and his team of IT professionals started to search for a distributed computing project to join that would run in the background on the machines.
He stated on his webpage: "In addition to the appropriateness of GIMPS being a Mathematics-based project, we found that it was very well-written and didn't interfere with the undergraduate computer users (this was not true of some of the other project software we investigated)."
"The Program in Computering (PIC) draws students from majors all over campus, so it was important to us that any lab-wide computing projects be comprehensible to all concerned. GIMPS certainly fit the bill here, and as a bonus, we thought the informal competition between GIMPS sites would be interesting for our students to follow, and increase their awareness of Computational Mathematics."
Since the first Mersenne prime found by a computer (M13) was found at UCLA (as were 6 others in the 1950's and 1960's), this was in keeping with the school's history of computational mathematics.
The discovery of a new prime
In August of 2008, one of the PIC lab's computers (a Dell Optiplex 745 with the id of zeppelin.pic.ucla.edu) discovered a new prime M47. It remained the largest known prime number for almost four and a half years.
Because this was the first prime number discovered greater than ten million digits, it was eligible for the $100,000 in prize money being offered by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. For its part in the effort, $50,000 went to the UCLA Mathematics Department. Again, quoting Smith, "We didn't really do this for the money. It was more of an exercise that we thought would be fun and maybe get undergrads interested in computational math. It's a hobby for some people, sort of a passion. There's really no guarantee that any of these numbers exist. We don't know they're there until we find them. So it's exciting to push the envelope."
"We're proud be to participants in GIMPS and grateful to the UCLA Mathematics Department for providing computational resources to the project."
Smith has been interviewed by the Los Angeles Times, Australian and BBC radio, and the Voice of America. Although this is a mathematics-related discovery, Smith maintains that he is "a system administrator, not a mathematician."