|On the first weekend in May, 326 of the best mathematics students in the nation competed in the United States Mathematical Olympiad (USAMO). This extraordinary group of mathematics students spent nine hours on two successive afternoons solving six very challenging problems. All of them were invited to take the USAMO exam at MIT, and 204 made the trip to Cambridge, MA. The remaining 122 students who were unable to travel to MIT took the exam at their home schools. The students competing in the USAMO outscored more than 238,000 students nationwide in grades 7-12 on a series of challenging exams. Each USAMO participant had already survived two challenging preliminary examinations: the American Mathematics Competition held in February 2002 and the American Invitational Mathematics Exam held in March and April.
The 204 students who were able to participate together in the USAMO at MIT were the guests of the Akamai Foundation and the Mathematical Association of America. The American Mathematics Competition is a program of the MAA and is presented by the Akamai Foundation.
Of the 326 USAMO participants, the top twelve were named USAMO Winners. Thus, only one in 20,000 of the original group made it into the Winners' circle. Two of the Winners are young women, and one of them tied four men for first place. The five first place Winners had perfect scores! The six problems are regarded as quite difficult, to the point that most professional mathematicians find them challenging.
The twelve USAMO Winners will be honored in Washington, DC, on June 23-24 at ceremonies sponsored by the MAA and presented by the Akamai Foundation. After a rigorous summer training program at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, Nebraska, six of the twelve will be selected as the United States team to compete in the International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO) to be held on July 19-30 in Glasgow, Scotland. The IMO will attract 500 of the most talented mathematics students from more than 80 countries.
While in Cambridge, the USAMO participants, in addition to solving tough mathematical problems, also enjoyed several other activities. They were treated to stimulating lectures, good food, impromptu piano concerts by participants, rousing card games and chess matches in the lobby of their hotel, and conversations with other students from around the United States who really like math. Careful listening revealed that not all conversations were about mathematics.
On the first day of the USAMO, Dr. Tom Leighton, founder and chief scientist of Akamai Technologies, talked on the causes of congestion on the Internet and the mathematical algorithms that help eliminate that congestion. That evening Akamai Technologies hosted a picnic for the participants on the grounds of Akamai corporate headquarters, where they were greeted by Paul Sagan, President of Akamai, and Dr. Leighton. Picnic goers enjoyed good music and food, tours of Akamai's network operations center, and Frisbee on the lawn.
Professor Ron Graham, President-elect of the MAA, spoke on the second day about outstanding problems in mathematics which are motivated by computing but probably won't be solved by computation. Following his talk, MIT rolled out the red carpet for the USAMO participants, providing a special tour of the MIT campus and a picnic lunch hosted by the Department of Mathematics.
Following two all-night grading sessions by a team of mathematicians, the twelve winners were announced Sunday morning, May 5. The list of 12 USAMO Winners, along with their hometowns and schools, the Honorable Mentions, and the questions on the USAMO as well as the answers can all be found at www.unl.edu/amc/.