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Who Wants to Be a Mathematician at Florida Atlantic University

Entrance to Florida Atlantic University

Who Wants to Be a Mathematician was part of Florida Atlantic University's annual Math Day on March 1. The AMS game and a lecture by University of Wisconsin Solle P. and Margaret Manasse Professor of Letters and Science Ken Ono added to the excitement of the University's Math Day 2008, which brought in over 200 area students and teachers for an individual and team competition (among students).

Some of the audience before the game

Some more of the audience before the game

Students began the day by taking a 25-question multiple choice test in the individual competition, which had a top prize of $1000, then many competed in a team competition. Following a post-competition lunch, Ono gave a lecture Freeman Dyson's Challenge for the Future--The Story of Ramanujan's Mock Theta Functions in which he told students and teachers about the life and work of Srinivasa Ramanujan. The challenge is understanding Ramanujan's mock theta functions, on which Ono and Kathrin Bringmann have recently published results.

Contestants and Mike

After a short break, 12 students (most of whom are pictured above) competed in three games of Who Wants to Be a Mathematician.

  • Marcel Núñez, Stoneman Douglas High School
  • Jesse Salomon, Spanish River High School
  • Jose Garcia, Wellington High School
  • Uttam Thakore, Florida Atlantic University High School
  • Alex Anderson, West Boca Raton High School
  • Mike Breen, AMS Public Awareness Officer and Who Wants to Be a Mathematician emcee
  • Michael Greenberg, Nova High School
  • Francis Musella, American Heritage High School
  • Serena Sam, Olympic Heights High School
  • Yimin Chen, Atlantic High School
  • Mason Bogue, Suncoast High School
  • (Not pictured: Michael Cho, Cypress Bay High School, and Ambar Mehta, JP Taravella High School)

Despite having worked hard all morning, the contestants acquitted themselves well in the three games and put on a very exciting show.

Game one contestants

This game not only went down to the wire, it went past the wire as it took two tie-breaking questions to break a three-way tie for first among Alex Anderson (front row, left), Michael Cho (front row, right), and Marcel Núñez (back row, left). Although Francis Musella (back row, right) did not tie for first, he did impress the crowd with a late surge in the game and was the only contestant to answer this game's final question (in regulation) correctly. Alex, Michael, and Marcel apparently didn't think one tie-breaking question offered enough suspense, so none of them got the first tie-breaker correct, and a second tie-breaker was used. On this question, Marcel was the first to answer correctly, so he won the game and earned a spot in the Square-off Round with the other two future game-winners. Alex later won a tie-breaker for second place.


Game two contestants

The game two winner was Mason Bogue (front, left), who won a hard-fought contest with Yimin Chen (front, right). Mason answered all questions in this game correctly, while Yimin missed only one question. Ambar Mehta (back, left) finished in third place, missing only two questions in the game. Also pictured is Serena Sam (back, right).







Game three contestants

Game three was won by Michael Greenberg (front, right), who edged out Uttam Thakore (back, left). The difference in this game was a question about the birthday problem, which Michael answered correctly. Close behind were Jose Garcia (front, left) and Jesse Salomon (back, right).








Square-off Round

The three game-winners--Mason, Michael, and Marcel (note to Who Wants to Be a Mathematician sales staff "That intern, Max, was right: We should have tried to line up 3M as a sponsor")--then played in the Square-off Round for an iPod Nano, courtesy of Ken Ono and the National Science Foundation. The contestants squared off on one question: The first person to answer the question correctly would win the iPod and a chance at the bonus question, worth $2000. After some thought, Mason was the first person to answer the question and his answer was right. Later it was revealed that in the Math Day individual competition, Marcel was the high scorer, for which he earned $1000, and Michael finished sixth.


The three champions, with Mike

Mason doing the bonus question

The audience, which had been very supportive and exuberant during the three games, fell silent as the bonus question was revealed. Mason used almost all of his three minutes before answering, but when he did signal in, he chose the correct answer and thus earned $2000 for his afternoon's work.




Mason is congratulated by Mike

Here are the prizes won by the twelve contestants:

  • TI-Nspire graphing calculator from Texas Instruments, an iPod Nano from Ken Ono and the NSF, and $2000 from the AMS: Mason Bogue
  • TI-Nspire graphing calculator from Texas Instruments: Marcel Núñez and Michael Greenberg
  • Maple 11 from Maplesoft: Alex Anderson, Yimin Chen, and Uttam Thakore
  • Calculus by Anton, Bivens and Davis from John Wiley and Sons: Michael Cho, Ambar Mehta, and Jose Garcia
  • What's Happening in the Mathematical Sciences from the AMS: Francis Musella, Serena Sam, and Jesse Salomon

Following the games, FAU president Frank T. Brogan congratulated all the students on the big part they played in such a great day of mathematics. Then the day concluded with FAU College of Science Dean Gary Perry and math professor Tomas Schonbek awarding the prizes for the Math Day individual, team, and Internet competition.

The AMS thanks the FAU Department of Mathematical Sciences for hosting the event and Karen Katonah for the many arrangements she made, the NSF for its support of this event, and sponsors Texas Instruments, Maplesoft, and John Wiley and Sons, for their continued support of Who Wants to Be a Mathematician.

Photographs by Who Wants to Be a Mathematician judge and co-creator Bill Butterworth (DePaul University Department of Mathematical Sciences) and Mike Breen.

Find out more about Who Wants to Be a Mathematician.