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Who Wants to Be a Mathematician at the University of Minnesota

Minneapolis skyline

Hubert H Humphrey Center

On October 23, on the University of Minnesota campus's west bank, over 100 Minnesota high school students and their teachers were dazzled by "Start Seeing Math!," a talk by Doug Arnold, Director of the Institute for Mathematics and its Applications (IMA), which hosted the event. They were also dazzled by the AMS game Who Wants to Be a Mathematician as the game finalists Rohit Agrawal and Justin Wheeler each won $2000.

Start Seeing Math!, Doug Arnold, Director of the Institute for Mathematics and its Applications

Doug Arnold


Arnold began by talking about roots of quadratic polynomials, representing them graphically and algebraically. He then gave a little history of the number i and demonstrated, again graphically and algebraically, operations with complex numbers. Arnold introduced the Mandelbrot set, wowing the audience by zooming in on portions magnified millions of times. Then he took a "commercial break" -

Phil Mickelson's golf swing, with equations


showing a TV commercial (from which the above is taken) that aired during the 2007 Master's tournament on CBS. Arnold helped in the production of the commercial, which shows applications of mathematics and the equations associated with those applications.

After the short "break," Arnold explained how to visualize complex functions and showed some visualizations of translations, dilations, and rotations. He then showed the video "Möbius Transformations Revealed," which he and Jonathan Rogness created, that recently won honorable mention in the 2007 Science and Engineering Visualization Challenge - a competition sponsored by Science and the National Science Foundation. The video has received over 50,000 hits on YouTube.

Visualization of a Mobius transformation



Who Wants to Be a Mathematician

Following a short break with refreshments provided by the IMA, eight Minnesota high school students played two games of Who Wants to Be a Mathematician.

Contestants and Mike

Pictured above are: Front row, left to right: kneeling: Paul Kravik (Minnehaha Academy) and Kyle Husebye (Stillwater High School), standing: Rohit Agrawal (Wayzata High School). Back row, left to right: Calli Thompson (Stillwater High School), Perihan MacDonald (St. Paul Central High School), Justin Wheeler (Hill-Murray High School), Mike Breen (AMS Public Awareness Officer and game emcee, Needham High School), Alex Fish (Bloomington Jefferson High School), and Nathan Bertram (Becker High School).

  Game one contestants  

Justin Wheeler (back row, right), a junior, answered all the questions in game one correctly to earn 3600 points and a place in the bonus round. Although all the day's contestants gave good explanations of their answers, one by Alex Fish (front, left) was entertaining enough to earn some time on WCCO's report of the game on its evening news. (Front row: Alex Fish and Paul Kravik. Back row: Calli Thompson and Justin Wheeler.)


Game two contestants: Trevor, Alec, Steven, and Courtney Rohit Agrawal (front row, left), a ninth grader, won this game, but it was a very tight game throughout. Perihan MacDonald (back row, right) had the early lead, eventually being passed by Rohit, while Nathan Bertram (front row, right) and Kyle Husebye (back row, left) tied for second. Kyle later won the tie-breaker.

In the bonus round, Justin and Rohit wished each other well and then used their three minutes to contemplate the question, which involved combinatorics and some properties of numbers. Rohit shortened the life expectancies of judge Bill Butterworth (DePaul University Department of Mathematical Sciences) and emcee Mike Breen by waiting until the last few seconds to signal in his answer. Both Justin and Rohit gave good explanations, and as it turned out, they both got the question right, each earning $2000!

Justin and Rohit


Nathan's rooting section

Pictured at left is part of the very exuberant Becker High School rooting section, which gave great support to contestant Nathan Bertram (the papers they are holding up spell out "Nate"). At right are the two contestants from Stillwater High School, Calli and Kyle, along with Mike and Doug.

Stillwater high school contestants Calli and Kyle, along with Doug Arnold and Mike

Here are the prizes won by all eight contestants:

  • $2000 from the AMS and a TI-Nspire graphing calculator from Texas Instruments: Justin Wheeler and Rohit Agrawal
  • Maple 11 from Maplesoft: Alex Fish and Kyle Husebye
  • Calculus by Anton, Bivens and Davis from John Wiley and Sons: Paul Kravik and Nathan Bertram
  • What's Happening in the Mathematical Sciences from the AMS: Calli Thompson and Perihan MacDonald

The AMS thanks Doug Arnold, who made the local arrangements for the game, including last-minute arrangements for refreshments; and sponsors Texas Instruments, Maplesoft, and John Wiley and Sons for their continued generous support of Who Wants to Be a Mathematician.

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

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