Number Theory

Number theory is the study of the fascinating properties of the natural number system.

Many numbers are special in some sense, eg. primes or squares. Which numbers can be expressed as the sum of two squares? What is special about the number 561? Are there short cuts to factorizing large numbers or determining whether they are prime (this is important in cryptography)? The number of divisors of an integer fluctuates wildly, but is there a good estimation of the ‘average’ number of divisors in some sense?

Questions like these are easy to ask, and to describe to the non-specialist, but vary hugely in the amount of work needed to answer them. An extreme example is Fermat’s last theorem, which is very simple to state, but was proved by Taylor and Wiles 300 years after it was first stated. To answer questions about the natural numbers, we sometimes use rational, real and complex numbers, as well as any ideas from algebra and analysis that help, including groups, integration, infinite series and even infinite products.

This module introduces some of the central ideas and problems of the subject, and some of the methods used to solve them, while constantly illustrating the results with exercises and examples involving actual numbers.