It is great that the AMS is able to conduct this competition which values and encourages mathematical talent. While sports are usually celebrated, it is wonderful that students interested in mathematics can also be encouraged. I sincerely hope that many more students gain the opportunity to participate in this competition.
"Thanks again for hosting the Who Wants to be a Mathematician contest. It was great to see the contestants and the talent of the students at the high school level."
"We were all watching here from Iowa City and cheering him [Junhee Lee] on! What a great competition. Thanks for all of your enthusiasm and efforts."
"I had a great time competing, meeting the other contestants, and seeing what the overall conference was like! I look forward to trying out again next year!"
Graham O'Donnell won first place in the 2017 national Who Wants to Be a Mathematician on January 7 at the Joint Mathematics Meetings in Atlanta. Graham, a junior at Lincoln High School in Florida, will receive \$5,000 and a TI-Nspire CX for his win. The Pi Mu Epsilon chapter at Lincoln will also receive $5,000.
(video by Kelsey Houston-Edwards, former AMS-AAAS Media Fellow and star of the online PBS show Infinite Series)
(Left to right: Andrew Hwang, Adlai E. Stevenson High School (IL), Oliver Song, Southside Christian School (SC), Aadil Bhore, The Lawrenceville School (NJ), Patrick Lei, Massachusetts Academy of Math and Science, Kalen Patton, Chattahoochee High School (GA), Kevin Wang, Fairview High School (CO), Shreyas Balaji, John Foster Dulles High School (TX), Graham O'Donnell, Lincoln High School (FL), William Luo, Lynbrook High School (CA), and Junhee Lee, Iowa City West High School
The ten contestants were split into two groups of five for the two semifinals. In game one, Shreyas, Junhee, and William were tied in the early going, but Shreyas moved ahead by being the only one to get a math history question right. He held the lead until question six when Junhee moved into first, just 100 points ahead of Andrew. That tight margin held for the last two questions as both answered correctly on questions 7 and 8. The win earned Junhee $2,000, a TI-Nspire CX, and a spot in the finals against the game two winner.
Game two had no lead changes. All five contestants answered the first two questions correctly, but Graham kept his streak of right answers going until the last question, which everyone missed. So Graham advanced to the finals against Junhee (and won the same cash and prizes that Junhee had won in the first semifinal.)
The game format changes for the finals: only the first person to answer correctly gets points. In the finals, Graham answered seven of the eight questions correctly, while Junhee answered first correctly once, so Graham was the winner of the 2017 National Who Wants to Be a Mathematician.
Before the game, the contestants and their families gathered with AMS President Robert Bryant (Duke University), 2017 Schafer Prize winner Hannah Larson (Harvard University), Lillian Pierce (Duke University), AMS President-Elect Ken Ribet (University of California, Berkeley), AMS Executive Director Catherine Roberts, Alice Silverberg (University of California, Irvine), the Who Wants to Be a Mathematician staff, and game sponsors for a breakfast and awards ceremony, hosted by Ken Ono (Emory University). Also at the breakfast were three of the Spirit of Ramanujan Math Talent Initiative awardees, Kendall Clark (Maryland), Martin Irungu (Kenya), and Ishwar Karthik (Qatar). Here are some videos and photos from the breakfast.
Below are the cash and prizes awarded to the 10 contestants. For each cash prize, the math department of the student's school, or a math organization at the school, receives a matching amount.
Thanks very much to our sponsors: Maplesoft, the Who Wants to Be a Mathematician Technology Sponsor; Art of Problem Solving, the Online Community Sponsor; Texas Instruments, and John Wiley and Sons. Thanks also to our judges: Bill Butterworth (also Who Wants to Be a Mathematician co-creator and show runner), DePaul University, Stephen Davis, Davidson College, and Katherine Socha, the Park School of Baltimore. Thanks also to stand-up mathematician Matt Parker who did a very entertaining video about twin primes for the game.
Thanks as well to Thomas Dick, Oregon State University, Dan Kennedy, Baylor School, Harold Reiter, University of North Carolina Charlotte, Tara Smith, NSF/University of Cincinnati, Byron Walden, Santa Clara University, and Carl Yerger, Davidson College, for writing questions, and to AMS staffers Robin Aguiar, Anita Benjamin, Annette Emerson, Samantha Faria, and Tongtong Wang, for helping that day. Samantha took most of the videos and directed the live webcast. Thanks also to Dorris and Ray Gann, who brought supplies and distributed goodies to the crowd.
Graham O'Donnell, with Lincoln High principal Allen Burch (left) and Lincoln High math teacher Randal Stowers (right).
Left: William Luo (center, standing) at a meeting of the Lynbrook math club, with Rita Korsunsky (left) and assistant principal David Erwin (right); first row: Math Club officers.
Snow and ice were forecast for Atlanta from Friday night to late Saturday morning, which caused many flights to be cancelled or rescheduled, and caused many Atlanta residents to stay home (once they had bought bread). Fortunately, the reality didn't match the forecast and all the contestants were able to make it to Atlanta for the game. For one contestant, though, Andrew Hwang, it wasn't easy. He and his family live near Chicago and their Friday flight was cancelled, so they drove, starting Friday morning and arriving in Atlanta after midnight. Although it's early in the year, this effort should earn Andrew's parents the WWTBAM MVP (Most Valuable Parents) Award for 2017.
Find out more about Who Wants to Be a Mathematician.
Qualifying for the 2018 competition, which will take place at the Joint Mathematics Meetings in San Diego next January, begins in early September (of 2017). Teachers who would like their students to participate should email the AMS Public Awareness Office (at any time) at: paoffice at ams dot org, subject line: 2018 WWTBAM. Include your name, school, and courses taught this semester. Note: It just happened that all ten contestants in this contest were young men. Naturally, we'd like to have more participants overall, but we'd especially like to have more young women participate and qualify.
Mike Breen, AMS Public Awareness Office.