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Who Wants to Be a Mathematician at the University of Wyoming

"I had very high expectations for the game and it turned out to be even more fun and interesting than I had anticipated. It was just awesome!"


Chief Washakie
Chief Washakie
"I fought to keep our land, our water, and our hunting grounds - today education is the weapon my people will need to protect them."

Neither snow, nor hail, nor thunder and lightning deterred eight students from playing Who Wants to Be a Mathematician at the University of Wyoming on March 29 in Laramie. Weather had been delightful a few days before the game, but a blizzard hit that day, closing all roads into Laramie. The students who played were those who were in town when the blizzard hit.

Contestants and Mike

Pictured above, left to right:

  • Carla Cundy, Sundance High School
  • Naomi Couch, University of Wyoming
  • Jennifer Porter, University of Wyoming
  • Mike Breen, host of Who Wants to Be a Mathematician
  • Kent Miller, University of Wyoming
  • Reg Christensen, University of Wyoming
  • Luke Forney, Sundance High School

(Not pictured: Erin Lockwood and Bob Weatherford, both of Laramie High School)

The morning began with a talk by Ken Ono (University of Wisconsin), Freeman Dyson's Challenge for the Future: The story of Ramanujan's mock theta functions. Ken told the audience about Ramanujan and his work, and about recent results by Kathrin Bringmann and him defining Ramanujan's mock theta functions. Ono also said that a film about Ramanujan should begin production soon.



Game one contestants


In the first game, Carla and Luke of Sundance High School played Who Wants to Be a Mathematician against Erin and Bob of Laramie High School. Carla and Luke had driven over five hours the night before to get to Laramie. In this case, being far away from the game site worked in their favor, because anyone leaving from out of town for the game that morning was forced to turn back. Game one was a see-saw battle, with three different players holding the lead on the last three questions.


Erin in the bonus round

Erin answered the last question correctly, which earned her a chance at the $2000 bonus question. In the bonus round, Erin narrowed the answer down to two choices, one of which was the correct choice, but unfortunately she chose the incorrect one and thus did not win the $2000.


Game two contestants

Game two was also a see-saw battle, with three players being in first place on the last four questions, and 100 points separating first and second place in the final standings. Kent Miller was the winner in game two. Like Erin, he also narrowed the bonus question choices down to two, including the correct answer, but also chose incorrectly. And like Erin, he did win a TI-89 graphing calculator for finishing in first place.

Kent in the bonus round


Mike and Kent with Kent's prize

The prizes won by all eight contestants follow.

  • TI-89 Titanium graphing calculator from Texas Instruments: Erin Lockwood and Kent Miller
  • Maple 11 from Maplesoft: Carla Cundy and Jennifer Porter
  • Calculus by Anton, Bivens and Davis from John Wiley and Sons: Bob Weatherford and Naomi Couch
  • What's Happening in the Mathematical Sciences from the AMS: Luke Forney and Reg Christensen

Immediately after the game, the University was forced to close because of the weather.

The AMS thanks Bryan Shader and Siguna Mueller of the University's Department of Mathematics who made all the local arrangements for the game and had nice gifts for the participants; the National Science Foundation for the Distinguished Teaching Scholar's Grant held by Ken Ono which provided travel for this outreach event; and sponsors Texas Instruments, Maplesoft, and John Wiley and Sons for their support of Who Wants to Be a Mathematician.

campus sign

Pedestrian (before the blizzard) faced with the realization
that even those who know history are condemned to repeat it.

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

Find out more about Who Wants to Be a Mathematician.