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Who Wants to Be a Mathematician at the 2005 SACNAS National Conference

Six college students played Who Wants to Be a Mathematician in front of about 1500 attendees at the Society for Advancement of Chicano and Native American in Science (SACNAS) national conference's Friday morning breakfast. It was the first time Who Wants to Be a Mathematician had taken place at the SACNAS national conference and the first time college students had played the game (as well as the first time contestants ate breakfast while playing).

The contestants in the game, pictured below with game emcee and AMS Public Awareness Officer Mike Breen, were (in alphabetical order):

  • Karl Calderon, University of Arizona
  • Julijana Gjorgjieva, Harvey Mudd College
  • Matt Hoffman, New Mexico Tech
  • Jason Pham, Cal Poly Pomona
  • Clara Orbe, Brown University
  • Jing Xia, Yale University


Karl, Matt, Julijana, Mike, Jason, Jing, and Clara

The six played an exciting game in which Karl, Julijana, and Matt were tied for first for the first six questions. Then Jason took over first place by being the only contestant to antidifferentiate an inverse trig function correctly. After a question from abstract algebra, Karl and Julijana were back in the lead, tied for first place.


Karl, Julijana, and Matt


Clara, Jason, and Jing


The tenth and final question in the round was from multivariable calculus, and all six contestants impressed the audience by getting it right. This left Karl and Julijana tied for first, which necessitated a tie-breaking question.


Karl, Mike, and Julijana


Fans root for the contestants

Julijana was the first to get a tie-breaker correct, so she went on to the bonus round and a chance at $2000.

The bonus question was to find the closed form for a given power series. Julijana worked very hard on the question, then asked her friend Carlos for "Help." He was helpful, but unable to provide any preference between the two possibilities, B and C, that Julijana had her choice narrowed down to. After Julijana made her choice but before it or the answer was revealed, the mostly non-mathematical audience was polled. There was no overwhelming favorite, but B received the most applause.It turned out to be the correct answer, but unfortunately, Julijana had chosen C and so did not win the $2000. It was a tough question, however, and she did win a TI-89 Titanium graphing calculator from Texas Instruments. The other prizes and their winners are:

  • Maple 9.5 from Maplesoft, Karl Calderon
  • Calculus from John Wiley and Sons, Jason Pham
  • What's Happening in the Mathematical Sciences from the AMS, Jing Xia (she and Jason tied for third place)
  • Four mathematical T-shirts from the AMS, Clara Orbe
  • A book and a T-shirt from the AMS, Matt Hoffman