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March 22, 2007

Jet Engines and Prime Numbers

Gas turbine lecture
Cruise the Pacific, listen to lectures on gas
turbines. It doesn't get any better

They have an ongoing lecture series here on the cruise. I attend them regularly. Today's was called "Jet Engines: The Roll of Gas Turbines in Global Energy Conversion," a topic my wife wanted no part of, but which I found gripping in the extreme. Did you know, for example, that the first jet engine-powered flight took place in Rockstock, Germany, in 1939? Today's biggest jet engine is made by GE and produces 127,000 pounds of thrust and weighs 20 tons. Among the smallest jet engines is one that measures three inches in diameter and produces 10 pounds of thrust. It is used mainly by radio-controlled-airplane enthusiasts.

After the talk, the lecturer, whose name is Lee Langston, took questions from the audience. Someone asked why gas turbine engines aren't used in cars. Langston answered that they can't achieve the
same level of fuel efficiency at that size, and that the most successful adoption of gas turbine technology in a vehicle presently is in the Abram's tank, which can travel very fast but uses a lot of gas. At this point, he was interrupted by a man in the audience with a German accent who said, "Diesel engines can do this as well. Diesel technology has come a very long way."

Then just as abruptly, the German was interrupted by an old-timer two rows back--a military man, I would guess, with a slight twang. This guy said, "Yeah, but the diesel engines give a great big heat signature, and then the enemy has no trouble blowing them away. Soldiers don't want to march anywhere near an Abram's with a diesel engine" It was an electric moment, the highlight of the cruise so far.

As the audience was dispersing, a man approached the lecturer tentatively. He was soft-spoken and seemed nervous. When he finally spoke, he said something about having children in the army, and then threw out this shocker: "I think I may have discovered the pattern for prime numbers."

I am untalented when it comes to numbers and know about theoretical mathematics only in passing - this wouldn't be the first breakthrough by an amateur crunching theory in his living room on weekends. But if
this man is right, if he has indeed found the pattern to explain the seemingly random  pattern in which prime numbers occur, then it will be a very big deal. Bigger, even, than the staff toga party, whose
time and location I have yet to pin down.

The two men are meeting tomorrow to discuss this further. I'm going to see if I can join them.


The Abrams tank uses a 1500 hp gas turbine engine that is known to have a HUGE heat signature. As I am sure you learned in your lecture, the efficency of a turbine engine is all about the heat differential (from intake to exhaust). The German Leopard tank is diesel driven and considered an equal to the Abrams, without the heat issue (they also share the same 120mm gun developed by the Germans).

Who knew you'd go from considering Japanese Silk Booster Facials to turbine engines?!
I'm really enjoying your trip :)

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