In knot theory, a prime knot is a knot that is, in a certain sense, indecomposable. Specifically, it is a non-trivial knot which cannot be written as the knot sum of two non-trivial knots. Knots that are not prime are said to be composite. It can be a nontrivial problem to determine whether a given knot is prime or not.
A nice family of examples of prime knots are the torus knots. These are formed by wrapping a circle around a torus p times in one direction and q times in the other, where p and q are coprime integers.
The simplest prime knot is the trefoil with three crossings. The trefoil is actually a (2, 3)-torus knot. The figure-eight knot, with four crossings, is the simplest non-torus knot. For any positive integer n, there are a finite number of prime knots with n crossings. The first few values (sequence A002863 in OEIS) are given in the following table.
|Number of prime knots
with n crossings
- Schubert, H. "Die eindeutige Zerlegbarkeit eines Knotens in Primknoten". S.-B Heidelberger Akad. Wiss. Math.-Nat. Kl. 1949 (1949), 57–104.