Convicted murderer solves ancient maths problem from his prison cell

Inmate and maths genius Christopher Havens made a world-class discovery in mathematics while serving 25 years

Inmate Christopher Havens is using his time banged up to solve maths problems

A convicted murdered serving 25 years in prison has achieved quite the feat after spending his spare time mastering advanced mathematics.

This isn’t exactly something you’d imagine a prisoner to do while in their cell, but after much time and dedication, Christopher Havens actually ended up solving an ancient mathematics problem.

Havens, who never even finished high school, has been in prison near Seattle for nine years after being convicted of murder, and is now 40-years old.

As reported by DW News, he dropped out of school, couldn’t find a job and became a drug addict.

During his time in prison, Christopher found a passion for mathematics and mastered basic higher mathematics. He is allowed to have textbooks posted to him, but only if he teaches other inmates his skills in return.

He decided to send a handwritten letter from prison to a mathematics publisher for some issues of the ‘Annals of Mathematics’ to see if he could challenge himself.

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An editor at the Mathematica Science Publisher sent the letter to his partner, who forwarded it to her father, a mathematics professor at Umberto Cerruti from Turin, who gave the prisoner a problem to solve to test his abilities.

What happened next was pretty mind blowing. Umberto received an answer by post, which was a 47-inch-long piece of paper with a long formula written on it. Havens had answered the maths task correctly.

That wasn’t it for Havens though. Using only a pen and paper, he solved a number theory involving ‘continued fractions’ which Cerruti had been trying to solve for a long time.

But what exactly are continued fractions?

A continued fraction is basically a mixed fraction in which the denominator has the form of a mixed fraction, with this structure continuing towards infinity making the fractions linked together.

They aren’t used for simple maths though, they often solve the approximation problems with which one approaches a result in complex calculations.

The theory is used in modern cryptography which is used in things like banking, finance and military communications – so it’s a pretty big deal.

Havens cracked the maths puzzle for the first time and found regulations in the approximation of a large class of numbers, which is very impressive for someone who never finished school. It resulted in him and Cerutti finishing a scholarly publication.

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