On Tuesday, March 15, 2011, Evan O'Dorney took first place in the Intel Science Talent Search (Intel STS). As winner of America's most prestigious and demanding science competition, he receives a $100,000 award from the Intel Foundation.
For his mathematics project, "Cracking the Code,” O'Dorney compared two ways to estimate the square root of an integer. He discovered precisely when the faster way would work. His research also helped him solve other equations useful for encrypting data, an interest he said he's had since he was very young.
O’Dorney described his project this way: "Many methods exist for approximating the value of a square root by ordinary fractions, including the venerable method of continued fractions (hereafter called Method I) and the newer method of iterating a linear fractional transformation (Method II). . . . In this project, I have discovered and proved an unexpectedly simple formula that allows one to predict, given a particular square root, whether the two methods yield infinitely many results in common."
Forty high school seniors from across the country were chosen as finalists in this year's STS, and came to Washington, D.C., for the final stage in the competition. The students were selected from more than 1,700 entries tied to cutting-edge research.
In addition to competing for the top prize of $100,000, participants vied for $530,000 in other awards. List of 2011 award winners (pdf).
The forty students met with President Barack Obama in the White House before the final judging of their projects (Read President Obama Meets with Fresh Science Talent).
O'Dorney at the 2010 International Mathematical Olympiad in Astana, Kazakhstan.
The Society for Science & the Public (SSP) developed the Science Talent Search in 1942, first in partnership with Westinghouse and beginning in 1998 with Intel. STS provides a national stage for the country's best and brightest young scientists to present original research to nationally recognized professional scientists.
In an interview with the San Jose Mercury News, O'Dorney said winning the Science Talent Search left him "excited and shocked."
This was the third year in a row in which the top prize has gone to a student with a mathematics project or a science project with a strong mathematical component.
O'Dorney has been a constant subject of MAA news articles because of his successful participation in the MAA's American Mathematics Competitions and other national and international competitions, including Bay Area Math Olympiad grand prize (2007, 2009, 2010); USA Mathematical Olympiad winner (2008); Gold medalist and second best score at the 2010 International Mathematical Olympiad;International Mathematical Olympiad silver medalist (2008, 2009); Who Wants to Be a Mathematician national champion (2010); and Intel International Science and Engineering Fair finalist (2010).
Steve Dunbar, MAA Director of Competitions, has watched O'Dorney's progression since he was an eighth-grader. “It’s been apparent since his first year at Math Olympiad Summer Program in 2007 that Evan was going to accomplish great things. His USAMO and IMO medals are evidence of his great ability. Winning the top award in the Science Talent Search is another.”
O'Dorney also won the 2007 Scripps National Spelling Bee, a mark of his varied interests that include music (he plays the piano), computer programming, and juggling.
“Math is neat," O'Dorney said in a 2008 interview. "A statement is either true or false. In science, any theory can be overturned by experiment because science is founded on experiment. But in math, there are theorems that can never be overturned because they have been proved with logic.”
Look for more MAA news featuring O'Dorney in the coming months as students all across the United States compete in the American Mathematics Competitions for a chance to be selected to the USA Mathematical Olympiad team and then theInternational Mathematical Olympiad team. He will attend Harvard in the fall.
Of the forty finalists in this year's Intel Science Talent Search, three had participated in the USAMO and IMO. Wenyun Cao won a silver medal for the United States at the 2009 IMO. His Intel project was "On the Second Eigenvalue and Expansion of Bipartite Regular Graphs". Amol Aggarwal, whose project "Repeated Distances in a Convex Polygon" was selected, participated in the 2010 USAMO as did Keenan Monks. His Intel project, "On Supersingular Elliptic Curves and Hypergeometric Functions," earned 6th place and a $25,000 award.
Evan O'Dorney, Spelling Champ and Math Whiz (June 4, 2008)
USAMO Winners Celebrated in the Nation's Capital (June 11, 2008)
President Obama Congratulates IMO Medalist Evan O’Dorney (August 9, 2010)
Danville Teen Wins Intel Science Talent Search and $100,000 (San Jose Mercury News, March 16, 2011)
Danville Teen Wins Intel Science Talent Search (San Francisco Chronicle, March 16, 2011)
Photos and text by L. McHugh.