Mathematical Sciences Research Institute

Home > About Us > News > MSRI in the Media > Show

Girls compete to solve difficult math problems: Sounds like fun right?

Today we’re looking for a big industrial city in North China. It’s the capital of Hebei Province, about 170 miles south of Beijing. It’s where an international meet called the “China Girls Math Olympiad” is taking place. Girls from [10] countries are competing to solve difficult math problems.

Sounds like fun right? So where in China are we?

Here's the answer to our Geo Quiz…The capital of Hebei Province is the Chinese city of Shijiazhuang. That’s where the China Girls Math Olympiad is taking place. The 8 teenagers on the US girls math team competed against teams from countries including Russia and China.

The US girls scored 5 individual gold medals and the team finished second overall behind a Chinese team from the city of Wuhan.

We talk with Lynnelle Ye who just graduated from Palo Alto High School in California and Elizabeth Synge a senior from Boston.

US Girls Math Team (Photo courtesy of MSRI in Berkeley)

Download MP3
Audio segment courtesy of PRI's The World

PRI's The World: Teenaged Lynnelle Ye from Palo Alto, Calif., is there right now. She's on the US team competing against girls from all around the world in the China Girls Math Olympiad.

Lynnelle Ye: It's a two-day competition, four hours each day and four problems each day.

TW: What was your favorite and how did you solve it?

LY: My favorite would have to be problem #4, the inequality. It asks you prove that something is always less than or equal to something else.

TW: And how do you actually go about doing that?

LY: Several years ago I went to a math summer camp where somebody taught a class on a certain method for solving inequalities. I looked at this problem and I guess I worked with it a bit and it seemed that this method would become useful. And so I just tried it and it worked.

TW: And I gather your solution was actually different from the solution the people who wrote the problem had in mind.

LY: Yes, it was completely different.

TW: Describe what it's like, you're 170 miles from Beijing, you're in Hebei Province. What have you seen?

LY: I guess most of the time we've been in the school. We did go touring a bit today. We saw an ancient bridge and I bought four Rubik's Cubes, five actually, five Rubik's Cubes. They're colorful.

TW: Yes, absolutely, but why would you buy them there?

LY: They're cheaper and at home I only have the standard three by three by three Rubik's Cube. Over here they have all kinds of strange shapes.

TW: So they are actually different?

LY: Yes. Very interesting.

TW: Lynnelle, thank you for speaking with us. Lynnelle Ye recently graduated from Palo Alto High School. Now you are going to pass us to Elizabeth Synge who is a senior from Boston. Hi, Elizabeth, give us a sense of the competition, help people understand what the math is like, what it's like to do it over there.

Elizabeth Synge: It's difficult math, but it's so much fun. When I sit down to take the competition, it just feels very good, [I'm] at home, it doesn't really matter where I am. I enjoy solving problems and it's always great to have solved the problem.

TW: And how would you describe those problems to someone whose not especially good at math?

ES: It's like figuring out why something happens. Like figuring out for yourself why something happens, then being able to show it to others.

TW: What do you think will be your strongest memory that you'll take back?

ES: Walking around the school campus with some of the volunteers. We just played around on the seaside and stuff like that. And, I was speaking a bit of Chinese. I had taken a Chinese class during the year. I actually spoke some Chinese, that was so much fun!

TW: Excellent! Elizabeth Synge is a senior from Boston and Lynnelle Ye from Palo Alto. They're in China as part of the US high school math team sponsored by the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute. Thanks so much!

LY & ES: Thanks, thank you!