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The 2012 National Who Wants to Be a Mathematician at the Joint Mathematics Meetings in Boston

"Thanks so much for everything! The entire competition was an amazing experience that was unlike anything I've ever been a part of."

"Thanks for the award. It was used to implement WebAssign in our AP Calculus classes this year which was immensely successful and so we will probably use it for the same purpose next year."

"Thanks so much for this amazing opportunity, and our school certainly appreciates the support, too!"

Below is a summary of the 2012 national contest, including a slideshow of photos from the contest and the awards ceremony. Videos of the contest, including all the questions tackled by the contestants that day, are also below.)



Shyam Narayanan
Individual photos on this page and most in the slideshow are by E. David Luria.

Shyam Narayanan, a freshman at Blue Valley West High School in Overland Park, Kansas, won first place and US$10,000 in the 2012 national Who Wants to Be a Mathematician, which took place Friday, January 6 at the Joint Mathematics Meetings in Boston. Half of Shyam's winnings goes to him and the other half to the math department at Blue Valley West. Shyam, the youngest contestant ever in the national Who Wants to Be a Mathematician, has no definite plans for his money, although he has thought about going to Disney World and having a lot of fun. He hopes the school money will be used to start a math club. See and hear Shyam talk about his victory below.





Shyam was not the only winner that day. All 10 contestants, pictured below, won cash and prizes ... and plaques (read more about the contestants here).


Left to right: Allen Yang, Cary Academy (NC), Richard Spence, Sonoran Science Academy (AZ), Rachit Singh, Pullman High School (WA), Eric Schneider, High Technology High School (NJ), Allan Sadun, Liberal Arts and Science Academy (TX), Raj Raina, Novi High School (MI), Pablo Luis Hernandez, Miami Springs High School (FL), Stephen Lamontagne, Barrington High School (RI), Alex McDonough, Winchester High School (MA), and Shyam Naryanan, Blue Valley West High School (KS)

In a first for Who Wants to Be a Mathematician, there were three runners-up in this contest: Stephen Lamontagne, Eric Schneider, and Allen Yang. Normally there is only one runner-up, but because of a typing mistake, the last question of the second semifinal that appeared on the screen was not what was intended (onscreen, the operative equation was cos(cos theta) = theta, when the equation should have been cos(cos theta) = cos theta). Eric and Allen's answer was scored as incorrect when in fact it was correct (based on the displayed question). So each of the three contestants (pictured below) won $3000 and a runner-up trophy.


The first semifinal was very close, with only 600 points separating the top four contestants. Shyam and Raj finished tied for first, just 100 points ahead of Rachit. In the tie-breaker, Shyam was the first to answer first, so he won the game and earned a spot in the finals. In each semifinal, one of the contestants also participated in the 2011 national contest. Richard in this semifinal, and Stephen in the next one.


Game one contestants


The second semifinal was also very close. Stephen answered every question right (or so the judges, who had the intended last question in front of them, thought) and earned a spot in the finals against Shyam. Had the missing cos on the last question been detected earlier, Eric and Allen would have tied for first and had their own tie-breaker to decided the finalist.


game 2


Shyam put on quite a show in the finals, often answering the question before the choices were on the screen. He missed only one question, which Stephen also missed. Many meeting attendees later commented on how impressed they were by Shyam's quickness and mathematical ability.


game 2

Videos of the action:

After the contest, the contestants received awards at a ceremony presided over by Ken Ono (Emory University), who has given lectures at many events involving Who Wants to Be a Mathematician. The contestants were welcomed and congratulated by AMS Executive Director Don McClure, and AMS President Eric M. Friedlander. Later the two were joined by Kenneth Ribet (Stanford University) and Edward Frenkel (University of California, Berkeley) to hand out the plaques. Following lunch, Hee Oh (Brown University) handed out trophies for first place and for the runners-up.

Here are the prizes and cash won by the contestants in Who Wants to Be a Mathematician.

  • TI-Nspire graphing calculator from Texas Instruments and $5000 from the AMS: Shyam Narayanan
  • TI-Nspire graphing calculator from Texas Instruments and $3000 from the AMS: Stephen Lamontagne
  • Maple 15 from Maplesoft and $3000 from the AMS: Eric Schneider
  • Calculus by Anton, Bivens and Davis from John Wiley and Sons and $3000 from the AMS: Allen Yang
  • Maple 15 from Maplesoft and $1000 from the AMS: Raj Raina
  • Calculus by Anton, Bivens and Davis from John Wiley and Sons and $1000 from the AMS: Rachit Singh
  • What's Happening in the Mathematical Sciences and $500 from the AMS: Allan Sadun and Pablo Luis Hernandez
  • Five-Minute Mathematics and $500 from the AMS: Richard Spence and Alex McDonough

In addition to those amounts, the math department at each contestant's school receives a matching amount from the AMS.

The AMS thanks sponsors Texas Instruments, Maplesoft, and John Wiley and Sons for their continued generous support of Who Wants to Be a Mathematician. Thanks also to judges Bernie Madison (University of Arkansas), Ivelisse Rubio (University of Puerto Rico-Rio Piedras), and Katherine Socha (Math for America).

The last sentence above is proof that not all good judges are male, and as noted at the contest, not all good math students or mathematicians are male. See the AMS poster "Women Doing Mathematics" (available free from the AMS Public Awareness Office) for evidence.

See coverage of the contest: Of Shyam and his victory in The Kansas City Star and on KMBC-TV, of Allen Yang in the Raleigh News & Observer, and of coverage before the contest of Raj (on WJBK, WDIV and in an article in the Detroit News), and Pablo in the Miami Herald. (Rachit and Stephen were also written about, in the Idaho Statesman and Providence Journal, respectively, but the links have expired.)

Text by Mike Breen.

Find out more about Who Wants to Be a Mathematician .