The National Museum of Mathematics (MoMath), the only math Museum in North America, is awarding a cash prize to Kyna Airriess, a high student from Coronado who created an outstanding “zine” that celebrates the universality of math. Airriess is one of eight high school students worldwide to win MoMath’s inaugural “Strogatz Prize” math contest. She attends High Tech High.
“MoMath is thrilled to award the first-ever Strogatz Prize to eight extraordinary high school students,” said Cindy Lawrence, CEO and Executive Director of MoMath. “This contest was designed to celebrate students who use their imagination and creativity to share their love of math with the world. We hope that this friendly competition brought joy and excitement to all of our participants from around the world, especially during this challenging time.”
The “Steven H. Strogatz Prize for Math Communication” is awarded based on content, creativity, and communication. Projects are accepted and judged in categories, which include video, audio, social media, art, writing, and performance. Among 46 entries were podcasts, articles, school newspaper columns, YouTube videos, websites, social media accounts, and songs, all of which promoted mathematical concepts in new and exciting ways.
The project for the writing award submitted by Airriess is a “zine” based on a quote from “A Mathematician’s Lament,” a polemical essay by high school teacher Paul Lockhart. “There is nothing as dreamy and poetic, as radical, subversive, and psychedelic, as mathematics,” wrote Lockhart. Reading Lockhart’s essay, says Airriess, “contributed to my own conversion from ardent math-hater to aspiring mathematician; I’d never heard someone describe math, the subject of unfeeling calculations, with words like ‘poetic’ and ‘radical.’ It was a long time before I began to see these traits for myself, but today I self-identify as a math nerd, and I want to study math in college.”
In the zine, each of Lockhart’s memorable adjectives—dreamy, poetic, subversive, and psychedelic—is illustrated and connected to math ideas, using symbols, history, color, and imagery. The judges were impressed by the passionate energy conveyed by the zine’s words and design. The overall effect achieves what Airriess intended: to embody “what those of us who love math want the world to understand. It isn’t about cold calculations at all— it’s a field full of creativity and beauty, and it is just as infused with humanity as any other.”
Airriess’ zine can be viewed at https://drive.google.com/file/d/1nYXe40mAM-ANoeI_hd3plnagnIier9CJ/view.
“The judges were incredibly impressed by this inaugural year’s projects,” said Steven Strogatz, American mathematician and Jacob Gould Schurman Professor of Applied Mathematics at Cornell University. “To all the students who entered: you are all wonderful ambassadors for mathematics, and such imaginative math communicators. Congratulations to you all, and thank you for sharing your insight and creativity with us. These are tough acts to follow, but we’re certain we’ll be equally impressed next year!”