Trivia: Which MIT Professor was the top scorer for the first US International Math Olympiad team in 1974, and what freshman class does this professor teach?
[answer at the end of the entry]
I remember sitting in my MIT freshman calculus class back more than a decade ago (wow, I feel old) next to a friend of mine from Singapore. At the time, he was the only person I had ever met from Singapore. He was very nice and extremely helpful in our math problem set group.
Later, I learned that he was the top scorer for Singapore at one of the international science olympiads. I had never heard of an international science olympiad. My high school wasn’t really big in that sort of stuff.
Rather than be intimidated, I took this as a really cool thing. Being at MIT meant that I was going to school with the best and brightest from around the world. I didn’t care that I wasn’t the smartest person in the class — it was great to have friends who were super-brilliant, future Nobel Laureate-types.
Sometimes incoming MIT students or prospective MIT students ask questions implying that if they’re not one of these international award winners, that they shouldn’t be at MIT. I say, rubbish. Take the attitude I had — that it’s awesome to go to school with über-geniuses, even if (especially if) you’re not one. Every class at MIT does have a share of über-geniuses (some, but by no means most, of whom have done these olympiads), but most of MIT is filled with people who are just plain-old really smart, motivated, creative.
This year’s class, the Class of 2012, will formally begin their Orientation on Sunday. Among them will be a number of students who represented the United States in the international olympiads.
There are 5 major math and science international olympiads, in math, chemistry, physics, informatics, and biology. In each country there’s a selection process to try to find the best student representatives. (For example, the US begins selecting their International Math Olympiad teams with the AMC and AIME exams, the former of which is taken annually by more than 300,000 students each year.) Once the national teams are selected, they gather at a site for the international olympiad, and medals are awarded to the top participants.
This year, the US fielded teams in each of the five olympiads, with a total of 23 students representing the nation (the team sizes differ between competitions from 4 to 6). Of the 23 participants, 13 were seniors/rising college freshmen. And of those 13 seniors, 10 are in the MIT Class of 2012. They are:
- Andrew Liu ’12, Chemistry: Bronze
- Colin Sandon ’12, Math: Gold
- David Benjamin ’12, Informatics: Gold
- Jacob Steinhardt ’12, Informatics: Silver
- Krishanu Sankar ’12, Math: Gold
- Paul Christiano ’12, Math: Silver
- Rui Hu ’12, Physics: Silver
- Shaunak Kishore ’12, Math: Gold
- Tucker Chan ’12, Physics: Gold
- Yuxin Xie ’12, Chemistry: Bronze
(n.b. There were no seniors on the US International Biology Olympiad team this year, but Gold medalist Mark Shteyn ’11 from last year’s US team is at MIT)
Of course, these weren’t the only MIT freshmen at the olympiads, as a number of our international students also represented their home countries (as my Singaporean friend had).
Congratulations to all the participants!
Trivia answer: MIT Professor Eric Lander, then a senior at Stuyvesant High School in New York City, scored 34 out of a possible 40 points to win a silver medal at the 1974 International Math Olympiad, the first in which the US participated. After participating in the IMO, Lander went on to Bachelors and Doctoral degrees in math, but then taught economics at Harvard Business School. Finally, after a long academic journey, Lander ended up in biology/genetics, was the first author on the publication of the Human Genome Project, and teaches introductory biology (7.012) at MIT each year. This fall, the class will be every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 10am.