Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Princeton University Math Contest (PUMaC)

Teams from around the country and as far away as Beijing, China competed at the fifth annual Princeton University Math Contest (PUMaC) this past weekend.

Congratulations to the eight Albany Area Math Circle students who did an outstanding job of representing our math circle at PUMaC! Pictured below are team members Jay White (heeg), Felix Sun (Shenendahoah), Gili Rusak (Shaker), Ashley Cho (Emma Willard), Gurtej Kanwar (Bethlehem), Matthew Babbitt (heeg), Zubin Mukerjee (Guilderland) and Preston Law (heeg).

The team tied for fourth place in the highly competitive A-division team round, tying with top teams from such distinguished places as Phillips Exeter Academy, New York City, and Beijing.

PUMaC team captain Matthew Babbitt and senior veteran Ashley Cho both brought home individual A-division medals as well on the geometry round, with Matthew tying for 4th place and Ashley tying for 7th place.

There was much friendly camaraderie in the cars travelling to and from the contest, as well as games during the breaks in the competition day. Team member Zubin Mukerjee won the chess mini-event during the lunch break.

A special highlight this year was the opportunity for team members to visit with Andrew Ardito and Dave Bieber, much beloved alumni of our math circle who are now Princeton undergraduates helping to run the contest.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Wise and heartfelt words from a veteran

Kate Rudolph, one of last year's top ten winners at the 2009 Math Prize for Girls, and now an MIT freshman, came back to speak with this year's participants at the 2010 Math Prize for Girls award ceremony, held in the historic Cooper Union Great Hall.

The gold-fringed velvet covered podium in the Great Hall is an imposing and intimidating place for a young woman to speak, even one as accomplished as Kate. (MIT describes her as a "world class mathlete.")

In its 150 years of history, "rebels and reformers, poets and presidents" have spoken at that podium. Many great orators--Abraham Lincoln, Mark Twain, Teddy Roosevelt, Barack Obama, the leaders of the antislavery,civil rights, and women's suffrage movements have all made impassioned speeches in that hallowed hall. Not exactly easy acts to follow!

Kate stepped up to the challenge with poise and passion, defying the stereotypes and demonstrating her gifts with words as well as numbers. Her enthusiastic words of encouragement and advice resonated throughout the Great Hall, giving new perspectives to the hundreds of girls and parents anxiously awaiting the results of the competition.

Here is an excerpt from the inspiring, passionate, and thoughtful speech Kate had clearly put her heart into composing to share with the 2010 contestants.

[A]ll of these competitions, including the one you took today, have something in common: you’re solving “solved” problems. Someone else has already thought about the problem and knows the solution before you even get to see it. Imagine what it must feel like to be the first person, in the world, to solve a math problem.

Well, that’s what the future holds for all of you. The point of the Math Prize for Girls is to get more girls interested in math, but what for? Moving forward, the point is NOT to get you winning more math contests. It’s not even to get you writing good math contests (which is considerably harder.) The point of bringing you here and exposing you to these problems is to get you interested enough in math that eventually you want to do NEW MATH.

But how do you get there from here? You’re on the right track: seeking out challenging problems and pushing yourself to do well. What’s next? I have three main pieces of advice.

The first: work hard. Nothing worth achieving is easy to achieve. Math is not easy, and it gets harder, but you can solve any problem you come across with enough effort.

Next: do what you love. At some point during your life, there will come a time when you break down, or burn out. If you spend your time doing what you love, you will have the foundation to build yourself back up again.

Finally: work with other people. This seems sort of opposite to the concept of competition math, where you’re primarily working individually, but I can tell you that there are math problems that are so hard, if you didn’t combine forces with other people you wouldn’t get anywhere.

Look around. You may know some of the other contestants here: you may have met them in summer math programs or they may be from the same area as you. But I challenge you not to just let this be a reunion of people you already know, but a chance to meet more math girls and expand your network. When I say “work with other people,” THESE are some of the best “other people” you could find!

Finally, I think I need to acknowledge that yes, we girls are a minority in the field of mathematics. However, this is not a curse but a blessing, and I challenge you to use it! As a girl, you will have more opportunities (heck, you’re taking advantage of one of them right now!) If people set lower expectations for you because you are a girl, that is an opportunity to blow them away.

Good luck on this competition: I know you’re all anxiously waiting for the results. But more importantly, good luck as you pursue mathematics beyond this competition, beyond all competitions, and start doing some NEW MATH of your own."

Friday, November 19, 2010

More fun and games at Math Prize for Girls

'Twas the night before the Math Prize for Girls, and some girls sat on the floor to build surprisingly sturdy structures from marshallows and spaghetti, while others played board games. There's a lot to be said for cultivating a relaxed playful mind--playfulness is an important part of problem-solving.

The challenging math problems that awaited them the next morning are available here.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Math Prize for Girls contestants community: who are they and where are they from?

Thanks again to Advantage Testing Foundation for its vision and generous lead sponsorship of the Math Prize for Girls in 2009 and again this year. Thanks as well to the additional sponsors who have now joined Advantage Testing Foundation in supporting the event: Akamai Foundation, Canada/USA MathCamp, and Wolfram Mathematica.

This past weekend's Math Prize for Girls event provided even more opportunities for girls from all over the United States and Canada to forge new friendships and renew old ones based on their shared enthusiasm for mathematical challenges. This year's event added a lunch for contestants on Saturday as well as a "Games Night" event Friday evening for distant students whose travel plans had them staying overnight in the Big Apple.

There's a wonderful camaraderie of kindred spirits at all the mathematical events I've ever attended, but the atmosphere at the Math Prize for Girls stands out even more for all the sparkling smiles and laughter and friendly hugs. Students did not even seem to mind the long lunch lines--taking that as yet another opportunity to make new friends they might not otherwise have met. The purple hats and t-shirts were apparently major hits.

Veteran students returning for a second year welcomed the opportunities to reconnect with friends they met last year, as well as to make new friends with first-timers. Students, volunteers, and fans who knew one another from ARML or other contests like HMMT or summer programs such as Canada/USA MathCamp and HCSSiM reunited and connected up their intersecting networks of friendships.

For students from remote outposts who had never participated in a math event outside their own schools, this event was a particularly special opportunity to make new friendships with girls who shared their passion for mathematical challenges. Some girls reported that they had so much fun talking to students from all over that they have been inspired to form local math circles to recruit more kindred spirits to work together to keep that enthusiastic mathematical community experience going throughout the year in their hometowns.

So, how about a little friendly rivalry?

Which states and provinces had the most girls participating this year?

Top States and Provinces
Based on Raw Numbers of Participants

1) California and New York (tie 28 girls each)
2) New Jersey 22 girls
3) Massachusetts 18 girls
4) Connecticut 16 girls
5) Illinois 9 girls
6) Pennsylvania and Virginia (tie 8 girls each)
7) Maryland 7 girls
8) Georgia, North Carolina, and New Hampshire (tie 6 girls each)
9) Michigan, Texas, and Washington (tie 5 girls each)
10)Indiana and Ontario (tie 4 girls each)
11)Florida and South Carolina (tie 3 girls each)
12)Iowa, Missouri, Ohio and Wisconsin (tie with 2 girls each)

Other states and provinces represented at 2010 Math Prize for Girls: Alberta, Arizona, British Columbia, Colorado, Kentucky, Manitoba, New Mexico, Utah (1 each)

Of course, reasonable people may object that the rankings above do not take into account population or distance from New York City. It's hardly fair to compare New York State to Manitoba!

So I generated some alternative rankings below by adjusting for population and/or distance, using Wolfram Alpha's handy data retrieval features to get statistics on the distance of each state or province's capital from New York City as well as its population.

Top States and Provinces at Math Prize for Girls
Adjusted for Population

(Ranking based on raw numbers divided by state or province population)

1) New Hampshire
2) Connecticut
3) Massachusetts
4) New Jersey
5) New York
6) Maryland
7) Virginia
8) Manitoba
9) California
10) Washington
11) Illinois
12) Iowa

Top States and Provinces at Math Prize for Girls
Adjusted for Distance from New York City

(Ranking based on raw numbers multiplied by number of miles from state or province capital to NYC)

1) California
2) Washington
3) Texas
4) Illinois
5) Georgia
6) New York
7) Massachusetts
8) Michigan
9) Florida
11)North Carolina
12)British Columbia

Top States and Provinces at Math Prize for Girls
Adjusted for Population and Distance from New York City

(Ranking based on raw numbers multiplied by miles from capital to New York City divided by state or province population)

1) California
2) Washington
3) Manitoba
4) New Hampshire
5) New Mexico
6) Utah
7) Iowa
8) Alberta
9) British Columbia
10) Illinois
11) Massachusetts
12) Georgia

Of course, reasonable people can differ about the appropriate methodology. Perhaps it is better to multiply by the square root or logarithm of the distance in miles to take into account the fact that travel times are not linear in distance. Perhaps states with boarding schools that recruit from national or international pools should have an adjustment to the population divisor to take that into account.

Can you come up with a methodological approach that puts your state or province on top? Feel free to post it in the comments below.

Put your state or province on the mathematical map next year!

And a shout-out and note of friendly encouragement to students in states and provinces that did not participate at all this year: if your state or province is small and/or far-away, it would only take one or two participants to make it rise to the top of the adjusted rankings above!

What's the first step?

If your high school does not offer the Mathematical Association of America's American Mathematics Competitions AMC10/12 contests offered each February, this is an excellent time to approach the head of your school's math department to ask about taking it. The AMC10/12 can lead to many opportunities--not just the Math Prize for Girls, but also the American Invitational Math Exam, the USA Math Olympiad, the Math Olympiad Summer Program, and even the International Math Olympiad as well as the China Girls Math Olympiad.

The per student cost for the AMC10/12 is very reasonable if you can persuade a number of your friends to join you in taking it. If your school takes advantage of the early registration discount and signs up before December 18, it works out to less than $6 per student if ten students take it at your school, about $2 per student if 100 students take it, and the cost goes asymptotically down to $1.60 per student if an infinite number of students take it at your school!

Best of all, you and your fellow students can have a lot of fun and learn a lot by preparing together. The best way to learn is to help others prepare as well. Create a mathematical community at YOUR school! Here is a resource website I've put together to help students prepare.

Photo credits: Joy Mingalingading (photo at top); Dr. Madhu Boppana (other photos)

Monday, November 15, 2010

Congratulations Ashley!

Albany Area Math Circle veteran So Yeun (Ashley) Cho, a senior at Emma Willard School, brought home yet another beautiful sparkling crystal trophy this year for a performance even more outstanding than last year in an even more stellar field of over two hundred extremely mathematically talented young women from all over the country and Canada at the Math Prize for Girls held at the Courant Institute of Mathematics on Saturday.

This year, Ashley was tied for 18th place, only one question away from top 10 tiebreak standing! Last year, she was tied for 25th place, two questions away from the top 10.

Thanks to her Honorable Mention score at the Math Prize for Girls this year, Ashley will be invited to write the Math Prize Olympiad in December, a four hour olympiad-style contest with proof-based problems designed to be comparable to those on the China Girls Math Olympiad.

In both 2009 and 2010, Ashley's score at the Math Prize for Girls was the highest for anyone from New York State! The complete list of high scorers is available here.

This year's field of over 200 competitors was even stronger than last year's field, because the success of last year's event caused much greater interest and many more girls from all over the country applied to participate. The event has attracted additional major new sponsorship this year, Akamai Foundation, which also sponsors the Math Olympiad Summer Program and the US team to the China Girls Math Olympiad. Thanks to additional sponsorship, more exceptionally strong students from distant locations were able to participate this year, because all 2010 USAMO qualifiers received travel subsidies. In addition, the Math Prize for Girls accepted applications from Canadian students for the first time this year. Thus, Ashley's stronger performance this year is all the more impressive, since the field is even stronger.

Ashley has been an outstanding leader and inspirational model for her fellow students at Emma Willard and for all students in our math circle. She has also been a leader among all students in New York, with many other recognitions including qualifying for the USA Math Olympiad in 2008, team high scorer honors on our A team at the state math tournament, NYSML, last April, selection for the Upstate NY ARML A team where she contributed to the epic first-place super relay in 2009, and selection to participate in Princeton's Summer Workshop in Mathematics last summer.

Ashley has mentored and coached her fellow students on Emma Willard's Harvard-MIT Math Tournament (HMMT). Next weekend she will join seven of our math circle's strongest and most experienced students to represent Albany Area Math Circle at PUMaC (Princeton University Math Contest), an extremely challenging math contest.

Our first-timers at Math Prize for Girls this year were Sherry He and Wan Wan Fei, also from Emma Willard, Cecilia Holodak and Elizabeth Parizh from Niskayuna High School, and Gili Rusak from Shaker Junior High School. The photo at the top of this post shows Wan Wan, Albany Area Math Circle founding member Alison Miller, and Sherry celebrating along with Ashley.

Congratulations to all the participants in Math Prize for Girls this year, from Albany Area Math Circle, from all over New York State, from all over the country and Canada, too!

More information and photos will appear on this blog in the coming days!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Harvard-MIT Online Tournament at Emma Willard 11/7/10

Congratulations to the brave group of Albany Area Math Circle students who spent five hours last Sunday afternoon working on an "Extreme Math" challenge--the Harvard-MIT Online November Tournament. Though most of the students were new to this kind of intense mathematical experience, they rose to the challenge with great enthusiasm and camaraderie. We had three composite teams bringing together students from Doane Stuart, Emma Willard, Guilderland High School, and Niskayuna High School.

To honor our region's grand traditions of mathematical and scientific contributions, our three teams were named after three historic scientists from our area: Charles Steinmetz, Katherine Blodgett, and Frank Benford. Charles Steinmetz, the mathematical wizard of Schenectady was a mathematician and electrical engineer who started the GE Research Laboratories, served as President of the Schenectady School Board, and taught at Union College. It was said that he figured out a way to turn imaginary numbers into electricity. Katherine Blodgett was a Schenectady native who was the first woman ever to get a PhD in physics from the University of Cambridge, and who later worked at GE where she invented a molecular process to create the world's first 100% invisible glass. Frank Benford was an electrical engineer and physicist now best known for his discovery of Benford's law, an unexpected but beautifully surprising logarithmic statistical pattern that can be used to detect financial frauds and other fabrications. (The story behind his discovery of the pattern is delightfully serendipitous: while working at the GE Research Laboratories in Schenectady, he noticed that the pages of the logarithmic tables corresponding to numbers with a leading digit of 1 or 2 were much dirtier than the pages for numbers beginning with 8 or 9, which suggested to him that numbers beginning with 1 or 2 might occur much more frequently in real world data than numbers beginning with 8 or 9.)

The students demonstrated remarkable concentration and perseverence throughout the long hours of the multi-round mathematical contest--I believe that Steinmetz, Blodgett, and Benford would be very proud of the strong and persistent efforts of the students on their namesake teams.

Students on Team Steinmetz (Blue) were: Aniket Tolpadi, Elizabeth Parizh, George Gelashvili, Peggy Hsu, Sherry He, and Yvonne Yen. Students on Team Blodgett (Red) were: Candice Chiu, Jamie Park, Justina Liu, Luxi Peng, and Sunny Yan. Students on Team Benford (Green) were: Chelsea Wu, Claire Feng, Eric Dammerman, Isaac Malsky, and Shuang Jin.

Team High Scorers:

General Round:
Elizabeth Parizh
(Steinmetz Blue)
Candice Chiu (Blodgett Red)
Chelsea Wu (Benford Green)

Theme Round:
Sherry He (Steinmetz Blue)
Justina Liu (Blodgett Red)
Isaac Malsky (Benford Green)

High scorers of the meet
(based on combined total on general and theme rounds):
Sherry He (first place)
Chelsea Wu (second place)
Elizabeth Parizh (third place)
Honorable Mentions: Aniket Tolpadi, Justina Liu, Luxi Peng

Team Round Local Winner: Blodgett (Red)
GUTS Round Local Winner: Blodgett (Red)

Whole is More than the Sum of the Parts Award:
Benford (Green)

Spirit of the Meet Award: Peggy Hsu
for her awesome enthusiasm and encouragement to our many first-time participants

Many thanks to Emma Willard School for agreeing to host this very enjoyable opportunity for our newer students to really immerse themselves in a lengthy and challenging mathematical experience!

Special thanks to Emma Willard math department head Sunshine Greene for working with us to make all the advance arrangements, as well as to Emma Willard teachers Judy Price, Carmel Schettino, Meredith Legg, and Angela Richard for all their help running the event.

Thanks as well to Emma Willard Practicum Coordinator Anne Mossop for all she has done to support Emma Willard students in making connections with our math circle on Friday evenings! Emma Willard students been a tremendous and growing addition to our math circle in recent years--and we are delighted to have their talents and enthusiasm among us.

Special recognition is due to Emma Willard senior veteran Ashley Cho for all her leadership and encouragement of Emma Willard students, as well as her help in getting all the contestants to the right place at the outset of our contest.

Finally, a shout-out to Beth Schaffer, former Captain of Albany Area Math Circle, now an MIT senior. Beth launched new initiatives--the November tournament and the on-line version of the November and February tournaments--during her tenure as HMMT tournament co-director for the past two years. Both these innovations reflect her concern for outreach and inclusion.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

AMC8 Tuesday Nov 16

The AMC8 is coming up on Tuesday November 16. Some area middle schools will be offering this contest to their students. If you are interested in taking the contest, please make sure to check with your MATHCOUNTS coach and/or math teacher to see if your school is offering you the contest.

For those middle school math circle members attending schools that do NOT offer the contest, Albany Area Math Circle has arranged a special administration of the AMC8 to be hosted at Hebrew Academy of the Capital District.

Please use the form at this link to register your student.

Albany Area Math Circle is grateful to Hebrew Academy of the Capital District for its hospitality!