Math whiz kids figure it out at York


Above: Jacob Tsimerman (left) and Sarah Sun

York was once again a proving ground for 15 gifted high-school students from across Canada, who attended the 2004 Canadian Mathematical Society (CMS) Winter Training Camp Jan. 6 to 11. Those selected for the camp are students who have a good chance of being chosen for what is viewed as the pinnacle of mathematics competitions for students – the prestigious International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO). Approximately 80 countries send teams of six high-school students to IMO, which will be held July 6-18 in Athens, Greece.

Fifteen-year-old Sarah Sun from Holy Trinity Academy in Okotoks, Alberta, described her experience at the camp as “intense but fun…. I like the camp. We finally get to meet people who have developed the same intense interest in math. We’re super busy: lecture at 9am, work from 2 to 5pm and again from 7 to 9pm. The material is challenging – some problems we can solve, some we can’t. I’m learning a lot from other students.

“I’d like to make the IMO team one day, or go to university to do graduate work, most likely in pure math. If I make the IMO team, I’ll travel and get to meet other people who are as excited about math as I am.”

Another student, 15-year-old Jacob Tsimerman of University of Toronto Schools, was equally enthusiastic about the time he spent at the math camp. “It’s fun. A good crowd. The problem-solving is hard…. I’m really interested in pursuing a career in math. That would be the ideal job. I would definitely consider working in the university environment.”

Professor Neal Madras, Department of Mathematics & Statistics in York’s Faculty of Arts and Faculty of Pure & Applied Science, sees the winter math camp as “a great opportunity for talented math students to work closely with others of similar calibre. They tackle some challenging problems, discussing different ideas and approaches. It’s an intensive period, but nobody gets tired because it’s a unique and stimulating event. We’re glad that York University has been able to help make this event possible.”

The Chair of the IMO Committee of the CMS, Professor Bill Sands of the University of Calgary, said team selection for the IMO is in May, when the results of three other math contests are computed. “All winter camp students are invited to write all three contests,” he explained. “Quite a few more students write two of the other contests, so it is quite possible for a participant in the winter camp not to be named to the IMO team.”

Left: Some of the participants at the math camp

Sands said the camp gives students a chance to get to know each other and the trainers who will take the IMO team to the competition site. “The camp is also held partly to teach the students some mathematics, to improve their ability to write contests and to give the trainers and me the chance to meet these students and observe them in action and interaction with each other.

“The York site is ideal in many ways, and we’re grateful to the Department of Mathematics & Statistics and to Bethune College for their cooperation in helping to make the operation of the camp exceptionally smooth.”

This was the fifth time that York’s Department of Mathematics & Statistics and Bethune College hosted the event. The majority of the funding was from CMS, with additional funds from the offices of the Dean of Arts and Dean of Pure & Applied Science.