Several years ago we did a bunch of projects on Graham’s number.
These projects were inspired by this fantastic Evelyn Lamb article:
Today I thought it would be fun to revisit the calculation of a few of the last digits of Graham’s number.
So, with no review, I asked my older son what he remembered about Graham’s number and then we talked about the surprising fact that you could calculate the last few digits even though you really couldn’t say much else about the number:
Next I asked my son about how he would approach calculating the last digit. He gravitated to the right idea -> modular arithmetic. The ideas were a little confusing to him, but I let him work mostly on his own.
We didn’t get to the end in this video, but you can see how the ideas start coming together.
In the last video he had made some progress on finding the last digit, but one piece of the argument kept giving him trouble.
BUT, he did have a correct argument – it just took him a minute to realize that he was on the right track.
Again, this is a nice example of how a kid works through some advanced mathematical ideas.
Next we went to the computer to begin looking at the last two digits of Graham’s number. The last two digits of powers of 3 repeat every 20 powers, so it was easier to use Mathematica to find the cycle than it was to do it by hand.
Here I just explain the short little computer program I wrote to him.
Finally, we tried to see if we could use the idea that the powers of 3 repeat their last two digits every 20 steps to see if we could find the last 2 digits of Graham’s number.
As we started down the path here, I didn’t know if we’d find those last two digits. But we did! It was a nice way to end the project.