Mar 6, 2009

The Phillips Academy math team recently celebrated success after its members won awards in two prestigious worldwide competitions, one in the United States and another in Romania. Andover placed eighth overall in the Harvard-MIT Mathematics Tournament (HMMT) on February 21. Like most math competitions, students at the HMMT competed in distinct categories of algebra, geometry, calculus and combinatorics. Students from Harvard and MIT hosted, coordinated and wrote the problems for the competition. Many members of the team said that the tests written for this competition were more challenging than problem sets from other math competitions. Tony Feng ’09, captain of the math team, competed in algebra and combinatorics at the HMMT. He said that the competition atmosphere was “just like taking a normal math test… One main difference is that on these tests, there are fewer, harder questions, and you have more time to think about them. This forces [you] to think on a deeper level,” said Feng. He continued, “While solving difficult problems is rewarding, meeting new people is another great part of attending these events.” “Sometimes, a problem will require you to learn and understand a completely foreign concept on the spot. It’s a great learning opportunity,” said Mary Wu ’10. Bowen Qiu ’09, who also competed in the HMMT, said, “These tests teach you logic and a way of thinking unlike a typical math test, where you more or less spit back some information you learned.” The annual Harvard-MIT competition is one of the largest math competitions in the United States. As a result, schools from all over the world participate in the event. This year, two school teams flew from China to attend the HMMT. “There were some really amazing students at this competition,” said Donald Barry, Instructor in Mathematics and faculty advisor for the math club. Last week, Wenyu Cao ’11 also traveled to Romania to compete individually in the Romanian Masters in Mathematics competition. Cao earned a gold medal by placing in the top twelve. The Romanian Masters is an international contest, and this year, teams from eight countries attended the event. The competition was Cao’s first international math tournament. The test contest consisted of four problems, one from each category of algebra, geometry, number theory and combinatorics. Competitors were given five hours to complete the test without any breaks in between sections. “Even though you might think that, after a certain period of time, one gets too tired to work efficiently, the competition actually gets more intense as time is running out. Nevertheless, it was a grueling competition,” said Cao. He continued, “Sometimes when you start a problem, you see no possible way around it. I usually try something random to get me started. Some of it is luck, but a lot if it is also intuition. Plus, it is rewarding when you finally figure the problem out.” Last summer, Cao qualified for training program for another math tournament, the Math Olympiad. He ranked in the top six participants at this program and therefore was invited to the Romanian competition. “It was really exciting for me going to the Romanian Masters, my first international contest. I had the opportunity to meet so many different people from a variety of places,” said Cao.