The 42nd International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO) concluded July 13, with the awards ceremonies at the Kennedy Center and dinner at the magnificent National Building Museum. The high school-age team from China ranked #1, and the U.S. and Russia teams tied for second place. Over a 2-day, 9-hour period, 473 students from 83 countries competed to solve 6 challenging math problems: 39 won gold medals, 81 silver and 122 bronze medals were awarded at the event.

The Clay Mathematics Institute planned and executed the Closing Ceremonies. The CMI presented the CMI-IMO Award to the four perfect scorers in the 2001 IMO. The award winners were Liang Xiao and Zhiqiang Zhang from China, Reid Barton and Gabriel Carroll from the United States. Reid Barton of the U.S. was the first student ever to win four gold medals in the IMO. U.S. President George W. Bush greeted and praised the students via video.

Andrew Wiles and Edward Witten gave inspirational talks at the closing ceremonies. Wiles addressed the young competitors by noting that the main differences between their IMO experience and the work of professional mathematicians are scale and novelty. He pointed out that at the IMO they were competing against time and each other to solve solvable problems, and that when they pursue mathematics professionally they will need a new kind of stamina, creativity and willpower to solve the many old and new unsolved problems in mathematics. He said that their success will require more than natural genius, that there is no substitute for hard work, and that they will need wisdom to choose problems and faith in their progress and solutions. His renowned work on solving Fermats Last Theorem had obviously inspired the audiences admiration, as he was greeted and thanked with prolonged applause and cheers. Indeed, the New York TimesIMO coverage headline read Young Math Competitors Pay Tribute to Their Hero (July 15, 2001).

Witten, a 1990 Fields Medalist, talked about the new challenges of the 21st centurychallenges in the mathematical and theoretical sciences. He gave an overview of how mathematics is underlying in the basic theories of nature--quantum mechanics and general relativity--and how attempts to reconcile these theories has led to string theory (of which he is a leading exponent). He declared that there are new worlds to explore as theorists and as experimentalists, and urged the IMO contestants to think about and pursue these challenges. Wittens enthusiasm and modesty were apparent, endearing and inspiring.

Then it was time for the students to receive their gold, silver and bronze medals. Their names were called one at a time, and they strode across the stage in all forms of attire, from suits to jeans and tennis shoes: a few draped themselves in their national flag. Each received a round of applause and a photograph taken. These masters of ceremonies and prize presenters were among the many prominent mathematicians, organizers and supporters of the IMO 2001: Rita Colwell (NSF Director), George Conrades (CEO, Akamai Technologies), Claude Deschamps (IMO Advisory Board Chair), John Ewing (AMS Executive Director), Ronald Graham (IMO Jury Chair, University of California, San Diego), John Kenelly (IMO 2001 President), Arthur Jaffe (CMI), Landon and Lavinia Clay (founders of the Clay Mathematics Institute), Walter Mienka (IMO Executive Director). Kenelly and Deschamps had particularly warm words for the students who came from all over the world, who came from various intensities of training, and who took part in this great social and intellectual gathering.

All of the presenters and dignitaries praised the students for their talent and hard work, and declared that all were winners and slated to become the top scientists in each country. For a behind-the-scenes look at the preparations for IMO 2001, see U.S. Hosts International Mathematical Olympiad, by Allyn Jackson, in the June/July issue of the Notices of the American Mathematical Society. Washington Post writer Lisa Allen-Agostini found some of the teens touring D.C. on a day off and quoted the perspectives of some from Macau, the U.S. and Trinidad and Tobago in an article The Sine of Tings to Come (July 11, 2001).

The CMI also presented its 2001 Research Awards to Edward Witten and Stanislav Smirnov. Witten was recognized for his lifetime of achievement, especially for pointing the way to unify apparently disparate fields of mathematics and to discover their elegant simplicity through links with the physical world. Smirnov received the award for establishing the existence of the scaling limit of two-dimensional percolation, and for verifying John Cardys conjectured relation.

At the Press Conference that preceded the Closing Ceremonies, Kenelly, Deschamps and Graham announced the winners. Arthur Jaffe, George Conrades, and Rita Colwell represented the primary academic, business and government supporters of IMO 2001the Clay Mathematics Institute, Akamai Foundation, and National Science Foundation. They summarized their missions, concerns and plans. Colwell in particular addressed the fear of math in the U.S., and stated that the goals of the NSF are to change the image of math (to promote awareness of its beauty), to transform math education at all levels, and to fund math sciences and its links to other disciplines. She urged the mathematical community and the media to play a part in achieving these goals: All of us are ambassadors for mathematics. The questions raised at the press conference were thought-provoking, and, it seems, not completely answerable (although several on the panel provided insights):

Is there a gender disconnect in the U.S. and internationally? There are no young women on the Chinese, Russian and U.S. teams. [There were only 16 young women among all the award winners.]) Colwell acknowledged that in the U.S. girls, minorities and many students between the ages of 4 and 8 drop interest in and do not excel in math, and that this needs to be addressed. Jaffe put forth that in other countries there seems to be less of a stigma attached to math. Kenelly pointed to Rita Colwell (the first woman to head the NSF) as a role model.

Math has a more esoteric language than it did 20 years ago when I [a math physicist] studied math. Could this be a turn-off for students and the general public who dont see maths real-world applications? Graham pointed to Witten as someone who bridges the sciences, and declared that Math IS the language of science. Jaffe put forth that at this time there is an exciting interface between math and physics, economics, biology, communication and engineering, all of which have revolutionized our lives. He said that we may not understand how work in math now may apply later. Colwell interjected that math is key in the genome project, among other fields> They backed the concept that the scientists in these fields are using the specialized language of mathematics, and that the goal is to better educate students to learn mathematics, and to better communicate to the general public these applications of math.

To what do you attribute the success of the Chinese team? The adult Chinese team leader firmly stated that their success was owed to the middle school teachers, and when asked if math was popular in China he laughed, Yes. The adult Russian team leader attributed the Chinese success to hard work and intense training.

Major sponsors of the International Mathematical Olympiad 2001 were the Akamai Foundation, the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Education, Wolfram Research, Texas Instruments and the National Security Agency.

Other organizations that sponsored IMO 2001 were:

- American Mathematical Association of Two-Year Colleges
- American mathematical Society
- American Statistical Association
- Assocation for Symbolic Logic
- Association for Women in Mathematics
- Association of State Supervisors of Mathematics
- Benjamin Banneker Association, Inc.
- Casualty Actuarial Society
- Conference Board of the Mathematical Sciences
- Consortium for Mathematics and its Applications
- Institute for Operations Research and Management Sciences
- Institute of Mathematical Statistics
- Matheamtical Association of America
- " http://mualphatheta.org>Mu Alpha Theta
- National Alliance of State Science and Mathematics Coalitions
- National Association of Mathematicians
- National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics
- National Council of Teachers of Mathematics
- Pi Mu Epsilon
- Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics
- Society of Actuaries

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