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Who Wants to Be a Mathematician at Providence College

"Thank you, as well as your coworkers, for organizing and hosting Who Wants to be a Mathematician. I’m sure a lot of work was put into the contest and I just wanted to let you know that I had a lot of fun. Your jokes were hilarious and meeting other math-a-holics from other schools was an interesting experience. Not to mention I love the gifts; I finally have a T-shirt to proclaim how mathematically geeky I am!"---Jing Wang, contestant

David and Xiaotian
Photo by Terry Coes

Two Rhode Island high school students, Xiaotian Wu and David Percy, took home a total of US$1500 when Providence College hosted Who Wants to Be a Mathematician April 2 (links to video from the day are below). Xiaotian, of the Rocky Hill School, won \$1000 from the AMS and a TI-Nspire graphing calculator from Texas Instruments, while David, from Mount Saint Charles Academy, won \$500 and a TI-Nspire. The eight RI high school students who played the two games that day are

  • Robert Hayes, Burrillville High School
  • David Percy, Mount Saint Charles Academy
  • Xiaotian Wu, Rocky Hill School
  • Mike Breen, host
  • Marcus Josefsson, Portsmouth High School
  • Mark Mathieu, The Prout School
  • Jing Wang, Cranston High School West
  • Alex Kithes, Woonsocket High School
  • Stephen Lamontagne, Barrington High School

(pictured below, left to right).

Contestants with Mike


Frank Ford, of the Providence College Department of Mathematics and Computer Science, began the day by welcoming the crowd (pictured further down the page) to the annual event.



Frank and the game one contestants


Game one contestants, in a light moment

Game one contestants at work


Following Frank's introduction, Robert, Jing, Alex, and Xiaotian played Who Wants to Be a Mathematician. Xiaotian was the first to use the Help, using it on a question involving fractals (below), for which Jing later gave a nice explanation (see the video). Jing, after explaining self-similarity, said that "fractals are awesome."

Game one, question two

Robert also gave a nice explanation of one of the questions--telling how he and a friend experimented with numbers and found some nice patterns. Xiaotian's Help helped him win this game (which earned him $500 and the TI-Nspire) and secure a spot in the Square-Off Round against the eventual game two winner (who would also get the cash and a TI-Nspire).


Game two contestants

Game two contestants

Game two was very close: Marcus, Stephen, and David were tied through the first five questions. Then the game became a two-person race between Stephen and David. Finally, it was David who got the last question correct which proved to be the difference in the game (video of three of the Game Two questions).

Game two, question two
Question two

Game two, question six
Question six

Game two, question eight
Question eight


Stephen is only a ninth grader, however, so he may return next year as a contestant. Marcus's helper was fellow Portsmouth student Joseph Futoma, who won \$3000 in the 2008 contest and provided good help to Marcus.


Xiaotian and David read the Square-Off question
Photo by Terry Coes

Xiaotian and David working on the Square-Off question
The two winners read the question (at left) and then begin working on it (above).

David and Xiaotian were then presented with the Square-Off question (video).

Square-off Question

The first person to answer correctly would win another \$500 and a chance at the \$2000 Bonus Question. After a couple of incorrect answers--one each from the two contestants--Xiaotian answered the question correctly and advanced to the Bonus Question.

Bonus question

With a chance to triple his winnings, Xiaotian thought very carefully about the question. When time elapsed, the audience was polled for its preference. When Xiaotian saw that Joseph clapped for an answer different from the one he had chosen, he had the feeling that he had chosen the wrong answer (video). In this he was right, but despite not winning another \$2000, he had earned more than most high school students did in that hour. (Photo by Terry Coes.)

Xiaotian in the bonus round


Xiaotian with his winnings
Photos by Terry Coes

Xiaotian and his mother


The prizes won by all the contestants are:

  • TI-Nspire graphing calculator from Texas Instruments, and \$1000 from the AMS: Xiaotian Wu
  • TI-Nspire graphing calculator from Texas Instruments and \$500 from the AMS: David Percy
  • Maple 12 from Maplesoft: Robert Hayes and Stephen Lamontagne
  • Calculus with Early Transcendentals by Anton, Bivens and Davis from John Wiley and Sons: Alexander Kithes and Marcus Josefsson
  • What's Happening in the Mathematical Sciences from the AMS: Jing Wang and Mark Mathieu

Thanks to the sponsors Texas Instruments, Maplesoft, and John Wiley and Sons, for their continued support of Who Wants to Be a Mathematician.Thanks also to Frank Ford and Lynne DeMasi, of the Providence College Department of Mathematics and Computer Science, for making all the arrangements for the contest.

From the teachers:

"Mark was thrilled to be a contestant in the "Who Wants To Be a Mathematician" contest and our cheering section had a great time. We have been very fortunate to have a student represent our school two years in a row and we hope to try again next year. Thanks for running such a wonderful program."

"'s event was terrific."

"Thanks for having us. It was fun to have a participant in this great event once again. There were some solid, challenging questions, which made for great discussion during and after the event. Thanks again to you, the AMS and PC for hosting."

More photos (of the great audience):

Mark's fan club
Mark's rooting section, from The Prout School

More of Mark's fan club
Both photos by Terry Coes


More of the audience
Photo by Terry Coes

The audience


More of a rooting section

Game two contestants

Photo of two of the AMS bumper stickers by Terry Coes

Xiaotian and Joseph after the game
Xiaotian and Joseph, after the game


Photographs by Rocky Hill math teacher Terry Coes, Who Wants to Be a Mathematician judge and co-creator Bill Butterworth (DePaul University Department of Mathematical Sciences), and Managing Editor of the Notices of the AMS Sandy Frost.

Find out more about Who Wants to Be a Mathematician.