Who Wants To Be A Mathematician

A National Who Wants to Be a Mathematician at the 2011 Joint Mathematics Meetings


"Over 500 high school schoolmates of Anthony Grebe gathered in the auditorium yesterday to watch the competition. It was thrilling! Some other words the students used to describe the event were: suspenseful, intense, inspiring, awesome, exhilarating and cool! As a 2-12 school with no high school sports, this was our trip to the Super Bowl or our Academy Award nomination. There was all kinds of media there to cover the event. Thank you so much for giving us this opportunity to participate."

"Thank you for the opportunity. Daniel's calculus class had a great time and obviously I took you at your word and encouraged the 'cheering section' atmosphere. Thanks again for the 'fun' that you personally bring to the competition. The students brought back the excitement to the classroom. What a great way to 'sell' mathematics."

"[Evan] is an extraordinary young man, and we are all very proud of him."

"I'm so happy for Noah! What a great student!"

"Thanks a bunch for running the competition; it was a lot of fun."

Evan and Anthony
This photo and others on this page (unless noted) are by E. David Luria.

Evan O’Dorney of Danville, California won $10,000 in the national Who Wants to Be a Mathematician Friday, January 7 at the Joint Mathematics Meetings in New Orleans. This is Evan's second straight win (read about the 2010 contest). He is a senior who is home-schooled, affiliated with Venture School, and who participates in the Berkeley Math Circle. Evan also won the National Spelling Bee in 2007 and had the second highest individual score at the 2010 International Mathematics Olympiad. His career goal is to become a math professor. The money that he won will be split 50-50 with Venture School. In the finals Evan competed against Anthony Grebe, who won $3000 for himself and $3000 for the Pine View School Math Department.

Below is a description of the 2011 national tournament, along with video and pictures from the contest and the post-tournament awards ceremony.


In the contest, 10 students from across the country played two semifinals, of five students each. The two winners of the semifinals squared off in the finals for the grand prize. Below are the ten contestants (read more about them here).


Left to right: Evan O'Dorney, Venture School (CA); Shonak Patel, Liberty High School (PA); Anthony Grebe, Pine View School (FL); Daniel Cooper, Jesuit High School (LA); Bryce Taylor, North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics; Stephen Lamontagne, Barrington High School (RI); Rohit Agrawal, Wayzata High School (MN); David Wise, Homeschooled (CO); Richard Spence, Sonoran Science Academy (AZ); Noah Taylor, Pickerington High School Central (OH) (Photo by E. David Luria)

It was pointed out at the contest that not all good math students or mathematicians are male. See the AMS poster "Women Doing Mathematics" (available free from the AMS Public Awareness Office) and the most recent regional Who Wants to Be a Mathematician for evidence.

At the halfway point In the first semifinal, with students from east of the Mississippi River, there was a three-way tie for first between Shonak, Noah, and Brian. Noah took the lead on question five, with only 500 points separating the top four contestants. On the last question, question eight, only Anthony and Bryce answered correctly, which earned Anthony the victory--delighting his Pine View schoolmates watching the live webcast (pictures below)--and moved Bryce into second place. During the game Shonak told the audience that he would donate some of his winnings to an orphanage in India.


Game one contestants


Scene at Pine View School
Pine View students and teachers watching Anthony (photos by Caroline Bowman and Gillian Braun)

Scene at Pine View School


In the second semifinal, David and Richard were tied for first at the halfway point, with only 400 points separating the top four contestants. Evan was the only contestant to answer question seven correctly, which moved him into first place. At that point David was 300 points behind and Rohit, who also participated in the 2010 contest, was 700 points behind, so any of the three could have won. Four of the contestants answered the last question correctly, so Evan held on to first, with Rohit finishing second.


game 2


Following the second semifinal, and in preparation for the finals, Daniel led his classmates in very entertaining cheer.

Jesuit HS cheering section Jesuit HS cheering section
Evan and Anthony in the finals

In the finals, only the first person to answer the question correctly earned points. Also question values were in the thousands, instead of the hundreds as in the semifinals. Anthony answered the first Finals question correctly and very quickly to take the early lead. Evan was the first to answer correctly on the next five questions (on algebra, geometry, number theory, combinatorics, and trigonometry), to take a sizable lead. On question seven, a difficult geometry question, Anthony was the first to signal in. He answered correctly, which put him within 5000 points of Evan. The last question was worth 5000 points. The Who Wants to Be a Mathematician crew braced for a potential tie, which would have been settled by one tie-breaking question.


Evan Anthony

Evan quickly eliminated that possibility by signaling in first and answering correctly to win the title for the second straight year.

First-place crystal bowl

Math is #1

Video from the contest, starting with the introduction:

After the contest, the contestants received awards at a ceremony presided over by Ken Ono, whose National Science Foundation Director's Distinguished Teaching Scholar Award helped pay for the contest. The contestants were welcomed and congratulated by AMS Executive Director Don McClure (below right), AMS President George Andrews (below left), and MAA President David Bressoud (below those pictures, center), who awarded Evan his first-place trophy, Anthony his second-place trophy, and Evan's mentor Zvezdalina Stankova (University of California, Berkeley) a first-place trophy, respectively. Videos and pictures from the ceremony are below.

Evan and AMS President George Andrews Anthony and AMS Executive Director Don McClure
MAA President David Bressoud with Zvezda Stankova
(The three photos and the two videos above are by AMS Public Awareness Officer Annette Emerson.)

The 10 contestants also received their awards for qualifying from Maria Monks (2011 Morgan Prize winner who will be attending the University of Cambridge), Kannan Soundararajan (Stanford University), and Melanie Matchett Wood (Stanford University). Below is a slideshow of the ceremony.


Here are the prizes and cash won by the contestants in Who Wants to Be a Mathematician. Each cash prize is matched by an equal amount that is given to the math department of the contestant’s school.

The AMS thanks sponsors Texas Instruments, Maplesoft, John Wiley and Sons, and the National Science Foundation for their continued generous support of Who Wants to Be a Mathematician. Thanks also to judges (pictured below left) Ricardo Cortez (Tulane University), Caren Diefenderfer (Hollins University), and Bernie Madison (University of Arkansas), and to the teachers and students of New Orleans's Jesuit High School (some of whom are pictured below, right) who formed an enthusiastic cheering section.


Left to right: AMS Public Awareness Officer
Annette Emerson, Who Wants to Be a Mathematician co-creator and judge Bill Butterworth (DePaul University), Bernie Madison (University of Arkansas), Caren Diefenderfer (Hollins University), and Ricardo Cortez (Tulane University)
Part of the Jesuit HS contingent
From Jesuit High School, left to right: math teacher
Leslie Merritt, academic assistant principal Kathy
Juhas, math teacher David Wright, Daniel Cooper,
principal Michael Giambelluca, and Mr. L.T. Cooper,
Daniel’s father


See coverage of the contest: Of Anthony Grebe before the contest and afterwards, as well as video from the news show Sarasota County Weekly (Anthony's segment starts at about 9:30), Evan O'Dorney, Shonak Patel, and Richard Spence.

Text by Mike Breen.

Find out more about Who Wants to Be a Mathematician and the national contest.

See other highlights of the 2011 Joint Mathematics Meetings.

Photo near registration
You'd better know someone if you want access to this wall.