TTU News

Math whiz among Tennessee Tech fall graduates

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Tennessee Tech graduate student Jonathan Dugas and math professor Brian O’Connor go over a math formula involving prime numbers.

Tennessee Tech will be celebrating commencement services on Saturday at 9:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. inside the Eblen Center. Among the 1,200 students who will be earning a degree is Jonathan Dugas.

A native of Winchester, Tennessee, Dugas is receiving a master’s degree in mechanical engineering, but it is his work in math that has brought him some recent attention.

Dugas, who earned a mechanical engineering degree from Tech in 2014, collaborated with math professor Brian O’Connor to create a mathematical formula involving prime numbers that is unlike anything that has been done before.

“Jonathan took a graduate course from me a couple of years ago and mentioned at the time he had some ideas about prime numbers,” O’Connor said. “Eventually, he contacted me again and we’ve been working on it.”

Dugas’ mathematics formula involving prime numbers could have a profound effect on the cybersecurity industry. It all came about just by tinkering with some numbers and noticing a pattern that seemed a little different.

“It only took me a few hours once I noticed it,” Dugas said. “I was doing some work for Dr. O’Connor’s class, working on an algebraic manipulation, and I noticed something that I hadn’t noticed before. I started playing around with it. Some of it was luck and some of it was curiosity.”

With Dugas’ luck and curiosity and O’Connor’s expertise in mathematics, the two created a patented formula and wrote a paper “Sequences for Determination of Prime Numbers by Elimination of Composites” that was published in the Journal of Mathematics and Statistics.

“What Jon came up with is that these numbers that aren’t prime have sort of a regularity to them. If you can predict where they are going to be, it will streamline the process,” O’Connor said. “What’s neat about this is that it is totally out of his area and somewhat out of my area. This is something that interested us both.”

Since his breakthrough, Dugas says he has been obsessed with trying to come up with something even better. He says in the next six to nine months he hopes to have another paper written that could have a substantial impact on national security.

“We are coming up with something better. From a computer science standpoint, it’s big and for public encryption it’s really big,” Dugas said. “If you have a prime number formula, you have basically wiped out all public encryption and have to do something else. If we get a really good formula, we could make the internet a lot safer.”

Dugas is mulling a job offer from Arnold Air Force Base in Tullahoma, but is also considering pursuing a Ph.D. Whatever the future holds, he is glad to have spent his time at Tennessee Tech.

“I was glad to be able to collaborate with one of my professors, because I’ve gotten a lot out of this school,” Dugas said. “I really have.”