ORT Argentina student Ariel Zylber is following in the footsteps of some of the world’s greatest mathematical minds with a gold medal-winning performance at the International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO) in Amsterdam.
Ariel’s magnificent result caps a succession of steadily improving finishes in the prestigious contest becoming only the fourth Argentinean to make the golden grade and causing a media stir in the process.
It is also a promise of great things to come if other IMO medal winners are anything to go by: Grigori Perelman won a gold in 1982 and went on to solve the famed Poincare Conjecture, for example, while Elon Lindenstrauss, who won a bronze in 1988, last year became the first Israeli to receive what is the highest recognition for young mathematicians, the Fields Medal.
Professor Lindenstrauss is now a prominent figure at Hebrew University’s Einstein Institute but was sufficiently impressed by Ariel’s success “ﾓ only eight per cent of the 504 contestants may get a gold “ﾓ that he sent a message of congratulations.
“A gold medal in these IMO competitions is a highly non-trivial achievement (I guess this is how a mathematician says impressive) and I hope Ariel will continue to enjoy and study mathematics,” he wrote to World ORT.
Of the six people in his IMO team, he and two others became professional mathematicians “ﾓ a path which Ariel, 17, says he is keen to follow.
“I would like to do research, maybe with the help of computers,” said Ariel, who is set to study maths and computer science at the historic University of Buenos Aires next year. “And I would like to receive the Fields Medal!”
If past trends are anything to go by this is no vain ambition. In 2009, he received an Honourable Mention at the IMO in Germany but a bronze medal at last year’s Olympiad in Kazakhstan “ﾓ not to mention a clutch of medals of various hues won in a series of other international maths and informatics competitions.
“I am getting better,” Ariel told World ORT last year. And he was right.
He has long since outgrown his maths class at ORT Argentina’s Almagro High School, said Ariel’s extra-curricular maths tutor, ORT alumnus Julian Eisenschlos.
“He comes in once in a while to say ‘Hi!'”, said Mr Eisenschlos. “He’s probably a better mathematician than me “ﾓ the results speak for themselves. I’m really proud of him but I don’t think so much of his achievement is due to my tutoring. It’s more a matter of a lot of study and training done on his own. You have to be passionate about it; you have to have the talent and you have to work at it.”
All those innumerable hours of solitary study boil down to just nine hours of wrestling with six problems spread across the two days of the IMO. Each problem is worth seven points for a maximum possible score of 42. Ariel scored 28 which ranked him at 39 out of 504.
The Head of ORT Argentina’s maths department, Graciela Paso Viola, stressed the wider significance of students’ participation in international competitions like the IMO.
“The kind of problems which Ariel and other face at these Olympiads encourages the teachers to introduce similar ones in class, problems which are open and non-mechanical and require creative resolutions. These improve the way students think as well as generate opportunities for learning and so contribute to a general, continuing improvement at every level of the educative process,”? Ms Paso Viola said.
Ariel’s participation in Holland was his last chance for glory in the IMO because will be ineligible for next year’s contest in Argentina.
“I’ll be too old; so I’ve won the gold just in time,” he said. “I feel very happy because it was a hard competition; I was very nervous. But I finally made it. I’ve worked for many years to get here.”
Eventually we may all benefit from Ariel’s success. As the Chair of the IMO Board and President of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, Robbert Dijkgraaf, said in his address to the opening ceremony in Amsterdam: “The world needs mathematics. Its role in society is rapidly growing. From the models of global climate change to the transactions in the financial sector, from securing communication through advanced codes to decoding the genetic base of life, mathematical ideas and tools help shape our society.”
World ORT Director General and CEO Robert Singer congratulated Ariel.
“His achievement will be an inspiration for ORT students in Argentina and internationally to excel; not only now but also in years to come because the world always remembers those who come top,”? Mr Singer said.