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Who Wants to Be a Mathematician at the University of Nebraska

Lewis and Clark statues
UNL welcome

"Who Wants to be a Mathematician was a very nice addition to the normal Math Day competitions. It was well planned and well executed."

Albert Zhou, a junior at Lincoln Southwest High School, delighted a packed house of over 250 students and teachers from across Nebraska when he won US$3000 and a TI-Nspire playing Who Wants to Be a Mathematician at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's Twentieth Anniversary Math Day on November 12. Approximately 1400 high school students participated in Math Day individual tests and team competitions, and witnessed the first Who Wants to Be a Mathematician webcast, which was shown in locations at the university and online.

The morning test
Team competition
Left: Students taking the morning test, PROBE I.
Above: Action from the first round of the team competition.

The eight contestants were selected based on their performance on the written exam, PROBE I (Problems Requiring Original and Brilliant Effort), taken by all the students at the beginning of the day.

Front row, left to right: Jahan Claes, Lincoln East High School; and Hayoon Lee, Lincoln Southwest High School

Second row: Darrin Kim, Lincoln East High School; and Katie Sedlar, Lux Middle School

Jahan got the first four questions right and held on to win this game (along with $500 and a TI-Nspire graphing calculator). Katie qualified as a middle school student, which indicates not only that she did well on PROBE I, but also that she has a bright future in subsequent Math Days.

Game one contestants



One question from the competition


Front row (left to right): Sang-won Bahng, Mt. Michael Benedictine High School; and Maesen Churchill, Lincoln East High School

Second row: Thomas "TJ" Fryklind, Archbishop Bergan Catholic School; and Albert Zhou, Lincoln Southwest High School

Albert missed only questions three and seven and edged Maesen by 100 points to win game two, $500 and the TI-Nspire.

Game one contestants

Jahan and Albert then squared off for another $500 and a chance at the Bonus Question, worth $2000. Albert answered very quickly and was correct, so he earned a trip to the Bonus Round.

Albert in the Bonus Round


There were many activities that day, so there wasn't much time for Albert to explain his answer to either the Square-Off question or the Bonus question, but however he solved them, he solved them well, earning a total of $3000 in cash and a TI-Nspire. He's pictured below with Jahan, their calculators, and checks that are topologically--but not financially--equivalent to the real thing.

Albert and Jahan

Here are all the prizes won that afternoon in Who Wants to Be a Mathematician.

  • TI-Nspire graphing calculator from Texas Instruments and $3000 from the AMS: Albert Zhou
  • TI-Nspire graphing calculator from Texas Instruments and $500 from the AMS: Jahan Claes
  • Maple 13 from Maplesoft: Hayoon Lee and Maesen Churchill
  • Calculus by Anton, Bivens and Davis from John Wiley and Sons: Katie Sedlar and Sang-won Bahng
  • What's Happening in the Mathematical Sciences from the AMS: Darrin Kim and Thomas Fryklind

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 Gordon Woodward and Lori Mueller of the university's Department of Mathematics for their help, and for coordinating the many activities that day. Below are pictures of some of the 2009 Math Day individual and team winners.

Individual winners
Class B team winners
Class B team runners-up


Class D team winners
Class D team runners-up



Read more about Math Day, including Albert also winning the Math Day top prize of an $8000 scholarship, in the Lincoln Journal Star article about the lecture and game: "Lincoln East top team at Math Day, LSW's Zhou top individual."

Random shots from Lincoln:

Flags at UNL
Hotel elevators
The university's flags honor the days before exponents.

Photographs by Gordon Woodward (University of Nebraska-Lincoln Department of Mathematics), Who Wants to Be a Mathematician judge and co-creator Bill Butterworth (DePaul University Department of Mathematical Sciences), and Who Wants to Be a Mathematician host and AMS Public Awareness Officer Mike Breen. Text by Mike Breen.

Find out more about Who Wants to Be a Mathematician.