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The 2015 National Who Wants to Be a Mathematician at the Joint Mathematics Meetings in San Antonio

"Just wanted to tell you how much we've appreciated the entire [Who Wants to Be a Mathematician] contest with actual attendance at the JMM the cherry on top. It was gratifying to watch my class have such perfect behavior when attending talks and then really exciting to listen to the conversations they were having on the drive back."

"Thanks so much for what proved to be a very exciting competition. We all had fun watching the webcast and cheering on Sam."

"Thank you very much for organizing Who Wants to Be a Mathematician. I had a lot of fun meeting great mathematicians at the luncheon, listening to some of the talks at the JMM in San Antonio, and talking to other contestants."

Sam Korsky, a senior from Glenbrook North High School in Illinois, won the 2015 national Who Wants to Be a Mathematician on January 12 at the 2015 Joint Mathematics Meetings, taking home US$5,000 and a TI-Nspire CX for himself, and $5,000 for the Glenbrook math department. Sam edged out Shyam Narayanan on the last question of the finals to win. Shyam, the 2012 champ and four-time qualifier, won the TI-Nspire CX, $3,000 for himself, and $3,000 for the math department at his school, Blue Valley West High School in Kansas. Here's Sam just after his victory:

Sam and Shyam competed in the finals along with Michael An of the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics. Michael won Maple 18, provided by Maplesoft, the game's technology sponsor, along with $1,000 for himself and the same amount for the school's math department.

Videos of the awards ceremony, hosted by Ken Ono (Emory University) are below. The ceremony allowed the contestants and parents to meet and talk with AMS President David Vogan, AMS President-elect Robert Bryant, 2015 Morgan Prize Winner Levent Alpoge, Jordan Ellenberg (University of Wisconsin-Madison), Winnie Li (Pennsyvania State University), Kenneth Ribet (University of California, Berkeley), and Maddie Locus (University of Georgia undergraduate math and swimming star), who also handed out the awards to the contestants.

Here are videos from the games:

Below is a slideshow of the games and the awards ceremony afterwards.

2015 National Who Wants to Be a Mathematician  

(Most of the above photos are by Laurie Shaw of Goen South. The rest are by AMS Public Awareness Officer Annette Emerson.)

The contestants, pictured and identified below, qualified for the game by taking two rounds of qualifying tests. Most took the online version, which was administered by Maplesoft using Maple TA. In San Antonio, the contestants were split into two groups for the semifinals, competing to make it to the finals and have a chance at the $10,000 grand prize.



Front, left to right: Jesse Zhang (Fairview High School, CO), Michael An, Sam Korsky, Shyam Narayanan, David Xu (Charter School of Wilmington, DE);
Back, left to right: John DiCarlo (Liberal Arts and Science Academy, TX), Michael Kural (Greenwich High School, CT), Shreya Thipireddy (Dulles High School, TX), Nicholas Diaco (Berkeley Preparatory Academy, FL), Zen Tang (Little Rock Central High School, AR), and Tomas Choi (Mission San Jose High School, CA). (Photo: Goen South.)

Find out more about the 2015 contestants.

Semifinal One:

Game one contestants Michael Kural answered the first six questions correctly and was the only person to get question four right, a question about the Moore method. Michael knew that answer because he had taken a topology course that was taught using the Moore method. For the last two questions of the game, Michael An, Sam, and David answered both correctly, which put them in a three-way tie for first. Only two could qualify for the finals, though, so two tie-breaking questions were used. Sam and Michael An won the tie-breakers, which earned them their spots in the finals. (Photo: Goen South.)


Semifinal Two:

Game two contestants Although this semifinal did not end up in a tie, it was very exciting, with Jesse and Shyam taking turns being in first place. Shyam answered question seven correctly, which put him in first going into the last question--a question involving numbers. The two contestants from Texas, Shreya and John, were the only two to get it right, which put John in second, just behind Shyam. So Shyam moved on to the finals, for the third time in his high school career. He won as a freshman in 2012. Only 800 points separated the five contestants at the end of this game. (Photo: Goen South.)


Mathematical Mime:

AudienceTo give Shyam (along with the audience and host) a chance to breathe, and to provide some mathematical entertainment for the audience, Tim Chartier (Davidson College) performed some mathematical mime, which the audience loved. (Photo: Goen South.)



Finals contestants

This was also a back-and-forth match, with each of the three contestants holding the lead at some point. Going into the last question, Shyam was in first, followed by Sam and Michael. Sam was the first to answer the last question correctly (in the finals, only the first person to answer a question correctly receives points for the question), which gave him the victory. Shyam finished second and Michael third. (Photo: Goen South.)


Sam and Shyam Championship Bowl


Here are all the prizes and cash won by the contestants in the 2015 national Who Wants to Be a Mathematician. For each cash prize, a matching amount is awarded to the math department of the student's school.

  • TI-Nspire CX graphing caclulator from Texas Instruments and $5,000 from the AMS: Sam Korsky, Glenbrook North High School
  • TI-Nspire CX graphing calculator from Texas Instruments and $3,000 from the AMS: Shyam Narayanan, Blue Valley West High School
  • Maple 18 from Maplesoft and $1,000 from the AMS: Michael An, North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics and John DiCarlo, Liberal Arts and Science Academy
  • Calculus with Early Transcendentals by Anton, Bivens and Davis from John Wiley and Sons and $1,000 from the AMS: David Xu, Charter School of Wilmington, and Tomas Choi, Mission San Jose High School
  • Mathematics Everywhere and $500 from the AMS: Michael Kural, Greenwich High School, and Jesse Zhang, Fairview High School
  • The ARML Power Contest and $500 from the AMS: Zen Tang, Little Rock Central High School, and Shreya Thipireddy, Dulles High School
  • What's Happening in the Mathematical Sciences, Vol. 9 and $500 from the AMS: Nicholas Diaco, Berkeley Preparatory Academy (note: Nick and Zen tied for fifth in game one)

KSAT, the ABC affiliate in San Antonio, covered the game, as did The Northbrook Tower (the hard copy article was longer). In addtion, both Shyam and Shreya were written about in India West.

Shyam at his talk

The next day, Shyam (at left looking at one of his slides during the question-and-answer period) gave a talk, Improving the Speed and Accuracy of the Miller-Rabin Primality Test, during the MAA General Contributed Paper session, Research in Number Theory. The talk resulted from research he did at the MIT PRIMES-USA program. Congratulations, Shyam.


Sam Korsky and teacher Steve Goodman Chair Scott Sugden and Tomas Choi
(Left: Sam Korsky and Glenbrook North math team coach Steve Goodman with the $5,000 check for the department. Right: Tomas Choi presents his check to the Mission San Jose math department chair, Scott Sugden. Below, left: Blue Valley West Principal Brett Potts accepting the check from Shyam Narayanan. Right: Michael Kural presents his check to Greenwich math department chair Dana Tulotta.)

Principal Brett Potts and Shyam Narayanan Michael Kural and department chair Dana Tulotta


Thanks very much to our sponsors: Maplesoft, the Who Wants to Be a Mathematician technology sponsor, Texas Instruments, and John Wiley and Sons. Thanks also to our judges: Bill Butterworth (also Who Wants to Be a Mathematician co-creator), DePaul University, Caren Diefenderfer, Hollins University, Ivelisse Rubio, University of Puerto Rico-Rio Piedras; and to our performers: Tim Chartier (live), Davidson College and Frances Su, Harvey Mudd College. Also thanks to Albert Lewis of the Educational Advancement Foundation who allowed us to use excerpts of Master of the Game: The Story of R.L. Moore, a George Csicsery film about R.L. Moore. Thanks as well to Thomas Dick, Oregon State University, Bernard Madison, University of Arkansas, Harold Reiter, University of North Carolina Charlotte and Carl Yerger, Davidson College, for writing questions for the games, and to AMS staffers Robin Marek, Nancy Hoffman, and Samantha Faria, for helping set up that day.

Find out more about this year's contestants, Who Wants to Be a Mathematician.