I think it was Kara who recommended to me the radio show “This American Life” which I really love. The other day, they had an introductory piece about prime numbers which you can listen to here should you be so inclined. I told Mr. Waffle about this and he was interested and did some research the fruits of which I give you here. Because I can.
Hunt for prime numbers: the puzzle was set by Mercenne – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mersenne_prime. The breakthrough you mention was made by Édouard Lucas – see link here. [Actually not, but never mind, this is interesting all by itself].
Wikipedia says “In 1857, at age 15, Lucas began testing the primality of 2127 − 1 by hand, using Lucas Sequences. In 1876, after 19 years of testing, he finally proved that 2127 − 1 was prime; this would remain the largest known Mersenne prime for three-quarters of a century. This may stand forever as the largest prime number proven by hand.”
Footnote 4 above is a link to another web site which says
“Lucas died under unusual circumstances. A banquet waiter dropped a plate and a broken piece flew up and cut him on the cheek. He passed away a few days later from a bacterial infection (erysipelas). ”
PS a more exciting account of his death is on http://mirrorsoferis.com/ds/013container.html
” … he was the guest of honor at a meeting of the Association française pour l’avancement des sciences — when he was savagely, fatally, assaulted.
A waiter — whose face no-one present saw, whose escape no hand nor word thought to obstruct — came up behind Lucas, and dropped a tray full of heavy crockery on his head. Lucas’s skull was crushed, he was rendered unconscious without the opportunity to say a single word; and though the crushing itself was not fatal, septicemia killed him a few days later. He never regained consciousness.”
Another French site offers yet a third version of his death
“Lucas est mort au cours d’un banquet : une assiette portant un couteau est tombée et lui a transpercé la gorge.”
A further site repeats the crockery theory with an extract from the Petit Moniteur Universel, 6 octobre 1891
“Sa mort a été occasionnée par un accident vulgaire. Dans un banquet auquel assistaient les membres du congrès, au cours d’une excursion en Provence, un domestique qui se trouvait derrière le siège de M. Edouard Lucas laissa tomber, par maladresse, une pile d’assiettes. Un éclat de porcelaine vint frapper à la joue M. Lucas et lui fit une blessure profonde par laquelle le sang s’échappa en abondance. Obligé de suspendre ses travaux, il rentra à Paris. Il s’alita, et bientôt se déclara l’érysipèle qui devait l’emporter. L’Université perd en lui l’un de ses plus brillants professeurs.”