A 20-year-old computer science undergraduate has claimed a prestigious $25,000 mathematics prize by proving that a simple mathematical calculator can be used as a "universal computing machine".
The proof involves a kind of mathematical calculator known as a Turing machine, a concept originally studied by mathematician Alan Turing in the 1930s. Some kinds of Turing machine are "universal computers" - given enough time and memory, they can solve almost any mathematical problem.
Mathematician Stephen Wolfram discussed the simplest possible Turing machine, a cellular automaton that uses just three different symbols in its calculations, in his 2002 book A New Kind of Science.
In May 2007, Wolfram announced a $25,000 award to anyone who could prove that this Turing machine is also universal. Other simple Turing machines are already known to have this property, but in those cases the proof was supplied by professional mathematicians.
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