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Who Wants to Be a Mathematician in the Virgin Islands

"This is just SO awesome!"

Four Virgin Islands high school students and four University of the Virgin Islands (UVI) undergraduates played Who Wants to Be a Mathematician at UVI in St. Thomas, coincidentally at the same time that several college basketball teams were taking part in a tournament on campus. The AMS math game may have had fewer entrants than the basketball tournament, but the audience in attendance for the math competition was just as enthusiastic as the basketball fans, being exposed to sides of mathematics that they may not have previously known about in lectures by Ken Ono and Eric Brussel, and giving exuberant encouragement to the eight contestants.

Entrance to UVI Abrar and Julia

The two big winners were Julia Hogroian (above, right) of the Antilles School and Abrar Husein of UVI (also above), who each won $500 from the AMS and a TI-Nspire from Texas Instruments.

High school contestants and some math adults

Pictured above: Seated: Doug Iannucci, UVI; Standing: Mike Breen, AMS; Eric Brussel, Emory University; Alex Emerich, Virgin Islands Montessori School and International Academy (VIMSIA); Kisla Clercent, Ivanna Eudora Kean High School; Julia Hogroian, Antilles School; Nathaniel Fuller, VIMSIA; and Ken Ono, University of Wisconsin-Madison and Emory University

Below are descriptions of the lectures and the two games.

Who Wants to Be a Mathematician, lecture by Ken Ono

Ono described many jobs and fields for which good students in mathematics are qualified. Friends and colleagues of Ono's who are mathematicians have

  • Won and Academy Award for digital animation,
  • Invented the street view feature in Google,
  • Helped quarantine SARS using graph theory,
  • Built the world of Tekken,
  • Advised Las Vegas casinos on games and odds, and
  • Designed the computer network for the Sydney Summer Olympics.

After showing details of each of the above, Ono concluded by telling the students that being good in mathematics is not only intellectually rewarding, but also can land someone a "cool job" with some of the most modern, exciting companies in the world.

(Below at left: Eric, Ken, and Bill Butterworth talk nicely to the projection system; at right: Eric grabbing a number from the number line)

Eric, Ken and Bill Eric Brussel

Reasons for Doing Math, lecture by Eric Brussel

Brussel told the audience that he chose math because of his interest in what a teacher called "things of the mind." He talked about rational and irrational numbers, saying that even though there are many more of the latter, most people wouldn't encounter them, unless forced to by nature, as is the case with π (and noted that if you picked up an irrational number from the number line, you would have a hard time putting it back in the exact place). He explained that the notes we hear plucked on a string have frequencies that are whole number ratios of one another and the lower the ratio, the more pleasing the sound. This was known to the Greeks and the elegance of the result, coupled with the culture's reverence for music and geometry, led the Pythagoreans to conclude that the ratio of all quantities--such as the orbits of the planets--were ratios of whole numbers, and thus rational numbers. Around 500 BC, Hippasus of Metapantum showed that this was not the case, that indeed irrational numbers existed, and legend has it that he was cast into the sea for demonstrating such an unpleasing result. Brussel showed the elegant proof, involving sides and diagonals of pentagons, and concluded by advising the students that they should do what "appeals to you on a deep level."


Some of the audience

Who Wants to Be a Mathematician (the games)

Game one contestants

Game one was a see-saw battle between Alex and Julia. Alex answered each of the first six questions correctly, but lost the lead on the next-to-last question, question seven, which Julia answered correctly. She held on to win first which earned her $500 from the AMS and a TI-Nspire from Texas Instruments. Pictured, front: Kisla Clercent and Alex Emerich; back: Julia Hogroian and Nathaniel Fuller.


Julia in the bonus round

Normally Julia would have squared off later against the eventual game two winner, but since the game two students were undergraduates, and a match-up between the two winners may not have been fair, Julia now had her chance at the $2000 bonus question. Her fellow contestants stayed for support, but she did not answer the question correctly, although she was close.




Game two contestants

In the second game, Abrar and Marisha were tied at the halfway point, but then Abrar pulled away to win first and the cash and TI-Nspire. Edward rallied on the last question to take third. Pictured, front: Leonardo José Bardomero and Abrar Husein; back: Marisha Perkins and Edward Sello.




Abrar in the bonus round

Abrar now had her chance at the bonus question. Later she revealed that her clothes were damp, because she had just come from a marine biology lab, which caused her not to use all three minutes allotted in the round and perhaps distracted her a bit. She also was close on her bonus question, but like Julia, did not answer correctly. She was very excited at this point, however, because her graphing calculator had broken earlier in the week, so winning the TI-Nspire was an even better than usual treat.



Here are all the prizes and money won that evening.

  • TI-Nspire graphing calculator from Texas Instruments and $500 from the AMS: Julia Hogroian and Abrar Husein
  • Maple 14 from Maplesoft: Alex Emerich and Marisha Perkins
  • Calculus by Anton, Bivens and Davis from John Wiley and Sons: Nathaniel Fuller and Edward Sello
  • What's Happening in the Mathematical Sciences from the AMS: Kisla Clercent and Leonardo José Bardomero

The AMS thanks sponsors Texas Instruments, Maplesoft, and John Wiley and Sons for their continued generous support of Who Wants to Be a Mathematician,and to the National Science Foundation which funded travel and some other expenses. Thanks also to Doug Iannucci of UVI, who made the local arrangements.


Beach shot

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

Find out more about  Who Wants to Be a Mathematician.