Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Further adventures of math circle alumni: David Rolnick

Albany Area Math Circle alum David Rolnick is profiled in this excerpt from an MIT admissions blog post about French House, where he lives:

Let's start with that kid over there - the one at the dining table closest to you, with the brown hair. That's Davie.

Davie is a junior from southwest Vermont, double-majoring in Math and Music. At MIT, he is involved in the Gilbert & Sullivan society - which performs comic operas by Gilbert and Sullivan - and the chamber chorus, which is a class that runs for three hours per week.

Non-MIT-related hobbies include "birding", which consists of "watching birds, looking at birds, and studying birds", and doing the same for insects. Davie has written about a hundred and fifty nature articles, most for a local paper, but also a few in the Vermont Entomological Society Journal and local nature newsletters. At his house in Vermont, he has found about 540 species of moth, seven of which had not previously been found in Vermont.

If you’re feeling brave, go ahead and challenge him to a game of bananagrams.

Afterwards, ask him why he likes MIT. He'll tell you that in all his time here, he has met “maybe one person” who wasn't "really nice."

Now ask him to tell you about French House. He’ll list some nouns: "quirkiness, silliness, friendliness, cooking, intellectualism, humanities, incidentally French, games."

Check out the engaging video [in French, with English subtitles] that Davie and his housemates created to encourage prefrosh to consider living in French House--sounds like a lot of fun to me! (Davie is the one in the orange shirt.)

David has appeared in several MIT operatic productions--the photo below by MIT Tech photographer Elijah Meniah shows Dave (center) starring as KoKo in an MIT Gilbert & Sullivan Players production of Mikado last year:

Davie also participated in the Duluth Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program. The first photo below shows him presenting his work in progress to his fellow students:

The second photo below shows David and other Duluth REUers getting to ready to set out on one of that program's legendary weekly excursions (as a break from their research)--white water rafting:

Congratulations to David on his many accomplishments--including yet another Honorable Mention in this year's Putnam College Math Contest. And congratulations as well to our other AAMC alums who made the national top scorer lists this year: Yipu Wang, a sophomore at Cornell, who made the Putnam top 188, and to Andrew Ardito, a freshman at Princeton, who made the national top 500 list.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Congratulations to Evan O'Dorney

17-Year-Old Wins Intel's $100K Science Prize

SiliconValley.com reports:

Danville's Evan O'Dorney wins Intel Science Talent Search

At 17, Danville's Evan O'Dorney already has won the National Spelling Bee and a gold medal at an international math Olympiad, meeting two presidents along the way. On Tuesday, he claimed the triple-crown: the coveted Intel Science Talent Search's $100,000 top prize.

Evan became California's first budding scientist to take home what's known as the Nobel Prize for high school students.

"I'm excited and shocked," Evan said after his win Tuesday. "This has been exciting, especially the judging interviews. All the science questions and working with scientists who are in very different fields than me, I'm very grateful."


Perhaps it's no surprise that this scholastic ninja -- did we mention he's a black belt in tae kwon do? -- once again has found himself taking down his overachieving competition: In 2007, he correctly spelled "schuhplattler," "laquear" and "serrefine" to win the Scripps National Spelling Bee. That's when he met his first president: George W. Bush.

At the Intel competition, something about approximating square roots won him the top prize and a chance to meet President Barack Obama, who had called to congratulate him the year before.

That's when Evan won gold at the 51st International Mathematical Olympiad, and the top prize in "Who Wants to be a Mathematician?" Well, Evan does. He hopes to one day be a professor of mathematics -- and continue singing and playing the piano.

Yes, in addition to claiming academic prizes, Evan also studies piano performance and composition at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and has written, among other things, a musical representation of the number pi, an opera and a piano concerto.


Evan says the person who's had the most influence on his scientific career is his mother, Jennifer, who home-schools him. His dad, Michael, is a BART operator.

His Intel prize is the result of research he did after Stanford University professor Brian Conrad invited him to tackle a problem regarding the approximation of square roots.

"After mulling the problem over in my head for nearly a year," he wrote in his Intel application, "I began generating and studying large amounts of computer data." He then describes manipulating formulas and observing patterns in the computer's calculations, and in the end, he came up with "an unexpectedly simple" formula. Well, maybe for him.

"A deep, lifelong fascination with the patterns of numbers," Evan wrote, "was my main source of inspiration throughout."

What the SiliconValley.com article unfortunately doesn't say is that Evan is a long-time and very active member, contributor, and leader in the Berkeley Math Circle. He is second from right in this picture, next to the circle's leader and founder, Zvezda Stankova. (Those are Klein bottles drawn on the blackboard in the rear, by the way.)

He is not a solitary mathematician who works alone. That's an invalid stereotype to begin with, and Evan certainly does not exemplify it.

Two years ago, at the Great Circles conference at Mathematical Sciences Research Institute (MSRI), I watched him captain the Berkeley Math Circle as his team of six challenged the Stanford Math Circle in a "Math Battle". (No, it's not a contact sport! He didn't need to use his tae kwon do skills. It's an oral battle of mathematical wits in which teams work together to develop and present solutions to tough mathematical problems in front of a panel of judges. It takes teamwork, good mathematical skills, good poise and thinking on your feet, and good communication skills. Check out the streaming video here.)

After winning many local Bay Area math contests, Evan took over the job of running the Bay Area monthly math contests himself. He is a great example of an important principle in practice--the more you give of your own mathematical understanding to others, the more you yourself will grow mathematically.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

And he coaches MATHCOUNTS too!

Wrong: an original composition performed by the multi-talented Hilly Adler, with passions for math and music.

Hilly is a sophomore at Albany High School, who helped Hackett Middle School math teacher Tamara Moffett to coach the school's first-ever MATHCOUNTS team.

I like the title of Hilly's work: "Wrong."

Young aspiring mathematicians need to embrace and celebrate the wrong more....no great math gets done without stumbling and working through a lot of wrong answers along the way.

Monday, March 7, 2011

AMC B-date AIME Qualifiers and Young Student Honors


Schuyler Smith 123.0
Felix Sun 121.5
Jay White 120.0

AMC 12B School team score is: 364.5



AIME Qualifiers:

Based on AMC12B:


Based on AMC10B:

ERIC WU 123.0

Young student honors:

AMC12B scores of 90 or above for students in tenth grade or below:

Cecilia Holodak, grade 9 Niskayuna HS 96.0
Preston Law, grade 10, heeg 91.5

AMC10B scores of 90 or above for students in eighth grade or below:

William Wang, Farnsworth MS, grade 7, 120.0
Alex Wei, Van Antwerp MS, grade 7, 117.0
Patrick Chi, Iroquois MS, grade 7, 114.0
Gili Rusak, Shaker JHS, grade 8, 114.0
Philip Sun, Acadia MS, grade 8, 111.0
Ziqing Dong, Farnsworth MS, grade 7 106.5
Martin Shreiner, Van Antwerp MS, grade 8, 103.5
Isaac Smith, heeg, grade 8, 102.0
Gideon Schmidt, Iroquois MS, grade 7, 97.5
Qu Chen, Shaker JHS, grade 7 97.5
Alex Cao, Shaker JHS grade 8, 90.0
Philip White, heeg, grade 7, 90.0

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Divisibility rules explained

As James Tanton points out, many students (and teachers!) use the divisibility rules, but can't explain why they work. That is unfortunate, because the explanations are a great stepping stone to modular arithmetic. The video above explains the divisibility rules for 3 and 9. (Double-click on it to see it full screen!)

Here's his explanation for the divisibility rule for 11.

And here's his explanation for the divisibility rule for 7. After viewing this one, you should have ideas about how to create your own divisibility rules for numbers like 13, 17, 47, etc.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Math Circles make a difference:

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- A Mills College professor has won the nation's highest award for teaching math. Zvezdelina Stankova, Ph.D., has made it her mission to inspire Bay Area students to follow a path in mathematics.

Stankova probably wouldn't be here had it not been for her math teacher in her native Bulgaria. In class one day she was given a second chance to solve a math problem.

"I was very puzzled how my classmates could do it and I couldn't. I couldn't believe it, that that was the case. So I went to the math circle and three months later I won the local math Olympiads with a perfect score," said Stankova.

That day her teacher told her, "What comes from within you, can take you very far." Stankova now gives that advice to all her students.

That happened a quarter century ago. Zvezda has had many adventures and accomplishments since then--check out the video above for more. Or, if you prefer text to video, see here. (Hat tip: David Cordeiro of the Metroplex Math Circle.)

In 1998, after getting her PhD in mathematics from Harvard University, Zvezda drew on her childhood experiences with Bulgarian math circles to found the Berkeley Math Circle. You can read more about the Berkeley Math Circle in this remarkable book. Here is a sample chapter on combinatorics from Paul Zeitz, one of the Berkeley math circle's many contributors.