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Intel day 4 March 14, 2010

Posted by Akhil Mathew in General.

I had the last day of judging today at Intel. The 40 finalists first went to the Capitol to take a bunch of pictures, then to the Einstein statue at the NAS for another one.  We then went in the project exhibition hall.  I met with seven judges, two of who were mathematicians.  In order that future generations of Intelists may face the day of judgment without crushing uncertainty in the morning, I shall briefly describe my experience.

The first two judges I had were mathematics judges.  The first one asked me what I would do if I were giving a talk about my project at a colloquium.  He asked me to explain one of my results, which I initially did incorrectly (having not looked through the older proof in quite some time) but fixed along the way.  He asked me how I had learned algebraic geometry (or, more precisely, that rather small subset I can claim to vaguely understand).   Interestingly, he referred to a specific result in my paper by number (3.10; I didn’t remember what that was for sure)—one of the differences between Intel and ISEF is that the judges read the papers.

The second mathematician asked me to give an overview of my project in detail, so I went into my usual spiel.  She asked me a few questions along the way about how the results were proved.  Finally, she asked where I was going to go to college.  I said that I didn’t know yet.   This was a somewhat longer interview. 

There were others who wanted a brief overview and then left.  A computer scientist who had asked me earlier about certain algorithms and an engineer that asked about the law of atmospheres chatted with me about extensions of those problems. 

The exhibits were then opened to the public.  I met a few RSI 2009 alumni from the D.C. area.  Most people were not mathematicians, which made explaining my project (on representation theory in complex rank) a somewhat difficult task, though there were some that knew, e.g. group theory.  I wasn’t envious of my neighbor Joshua Pfeffer with mobs of people craning to hear about the super Kahler-Ricci flow though owing to me extreme hoarseness despite my consuming two bottles of fluids.  Also, my parents stopped by to say hello and see the other projects.

I’m somewhat tired now, and there’s not that much more I really can say about it without going into technical details.

Intel day 3 March 13, 2010

Posted by Akhil Mathew in General.

(Today was the third day of the Intel STS competition.)

I had my third judging interview today at about 11:40 am.   The judging panel included a computer scientist who pointed to the seven wrapped chocolates on the desk and informed me that to each was assigned a number, and that I needed to discover which contained the median. I didn’t have the actual numbers, but I could compare any two.  In the end, I said something about O(n \log n) sorting algorithms (e.g. heapsort).  He then asked me about counting paths from (0,0) to (m,n) where one can move either right or up on each move; I stated a recursive formula, but got the wrong closed form expression (it’s a binomial coefficient, and I said it was a power of 2).  I was then asked by the other judge about what change I would make if I had to design the human body.  I suggested eliminating cognitive biases and improving rationality but that wasn’t legal; I then suggested various ideas such as removing vestigial organs and improving our ability to type, but settled on increasing the efficiency with which energy can be extracted from food.

I then had lunch and went to the National Academy of Sciences, where we set up our projects.   My poster had developed a slight tear from being sent through the mail, but I fixed it with construction paper.

Intel STS: Liveblogging day 2 March 12, 2010

Posted by Akhil Mathew in General.

I’m going to try liveblogging (insofar as possible) a science fair.  [9:24- It’s now pretty clear that what I’m doing is more like deadblogging.  Still, it’s better than nothing, I suppose.]

(9:45) So I’m at the 2010 Intel Science Talent Search in Washington, D.C.  Presumably many of the folk that come across this blog will have heard of it; it’s a science competition for high school seniors.  There are seven people from RSI here this year.  I’ve also met many interesting people among the other finalists for the first time, all of whom seem to be rather beastly.  Everybody arrived yesterday–I took the train–but nothing competitive actually happened.  Today, we will be judged by a panel of ten or eleven scientists and mathematicians who are going to ask us general questions about science in general, and not our projects.  My first interview is in about half an hour, so I’m basically procrastinating by writing this entry, if there was anything that I could do to prepare :-).

In any case, it was pretty cool to find that I’m in a room that has a TV in the bathroom.  The hotel is ridiculously fancy.

After this, I’m going to go back to random Wikipedia surfing about diverse scientific topics.   They told us this morning that the judges want to see the scientific process rather than technical knowledge–perhaps this is a license for me to babble?  I’ve always enjoyed idle pontification.  In any case, I promise more later after my judging interview. (more…)