Two algebraic number theorists in search of a square dance

STS 1989 Top Three Winners
Me and Chris Skinner, 1989.


21 thoughts on “Two algebraic number theorists in search of a square dance

  1. majordomo says:

    Wow that picture nearly stumped me, i knew it certainly wasn’t from IMO or USAMO (Skinner never participated in these), it is definitely the westinghouse STS. The dude to your left (richard christie) is now an alzheimer’s researcher at Massachusetts general hospital.

  2. Florian says:

    Cool! I found Chris easier to recognise than you. There are quite a few more photos here:

  3. BCnrd says:

    Jordan, how the heck did you find that treasure trove? And who posted it all? I didn’t know that Paul Monsky was one of the top two in 1953, and in the photo of the top 10 from that year it doesn’t look like Mumford (who was also a top 40 finalist in 1953) was in that group. And check it out, Univ. Michigan president Mary Sue Coleman from the 1961 finals at

    STS 1961 Finalist Mary Sue Williams Coleman at the National Institute of Dental Research with Drs. Seymour Kreshover and Francis Arnold

  4. BCnrd says:

    Oh, and Linus Pauling isn’t the only person to win two Nobel Prizes. Apparently Frank Wilczek topped that by winning the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in the same year he won in physics:

    STS 1967 4th place Finalist Frank Wilczek, 2004 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry

  5. Hum…. Marie Curie was the first… (Skłodowska-Curie, I should say).

  6. rmb says:

    Frank Wilczek didn’t win in chemistry, he won in physics; the caption seems to be wrong. According to Wikipedia (, there are only four people who have won two Nobel prizes: Maria Skłodowska-Curie (physics and chemistry), Linus Pauling (chemistry and peace), John Bardeen (physics twice), and Frederick Sanger (chemistry twice).

  7. Anon says:

    Out of curiosity, what were your and Chris’s STS projects on?

  8. BCnrd says:

    Emmanuel, I should have been clearer (since I knew about Marie Curie’s prizes): I had in mind “undivided” Nobel Prizes (i.e., not shared with anyone else), for which I think Pauling is the only one (and I’d checked the official Nobel Prize website beforehand, to double-check). Anyway, I knew it was a mistaken caption (as rmb notes below), so it was just a joke (as you probably knew too).

  9. majordomo says:

    Jordan’s project was “centered on the relationship among the numbers 2, 3 and 5” (whatever the hell that means), so it was some number theory related project

    Chris’ project was also related to number theory. Sorry I can’t give much more information than that, you can check out the NY Times article about them:

  10. KConrad says:

    In 1953 not only was Monsky a finalist, as BCnrd noted (see and several other photos after this), but so was Lubin (

  11. JSE says:

    2*3 = 1 mod 5, 2*5 = 1 mod 3, 3*5 = 1 mod 2; my project was about n-tuples of integers where the product of any n-1 of them was k mod the other one.

    Chris’s project was substantially more sophisticated… if I remember right it had to do with the circle method and eventually became a paper in the Pacific Journal.

  12. KConrad says:

    It’s sobering to see that the top prize back in 1989 was $20,000 and this year’s top winner gets $100,000. Moreover, back in 1989 the New York Times seemed humbled that someone not from New York State — especially not from New York City — came in first place, but at least they deemed it newsworthy. They didn’t even bother to write an article about the results of this year’s Intel STS results at all! The closest they came was an article before the Oscar awards about Natalie Portman having done a project when she was in high school.

  13. majordomo says:

    KConrad I think everyone (not just the NY Times) was surprised when a person not from new york (especially from Arkansas) won it. Usually, students from NY schools have always dominated these competitions, and 1989 may have been the first time anyone from Arkansas won first prize.

    You’re right about the top prize being immense, I don’t even know of any other high school competitions that award anywhere near 100K to the winner. This year’s winner deserved it though, he’s an impressive california kid (Evan O’Dorney) who has won silver and gold medals at the IMO since 14 and even won the spelling bee championship. Here’s a recent CNN interview of him:

  14. KConrad says:

    JSE: Oh, I knew who the winner was this year since I know his advisor pretty well. :)

  15. majordomo says:

    KConrad are you referring to Zvezda Stankova ?

  16. KConrad says:

    JSE: Evan has been involved with Zvezda’s work in the Bay Area Math Circle, but his math research projects were advised by someone I have known longer than Zvezda.

  17. KConrad says:

    Oops, I should have addressed my previous comment to majordomo instead of JSE. Is there some way to edit comments on this thing?

  18. Michael says:

    Is your title a reference to something?

  19. JSE says:

    Just that the picture looks like we’re doing one of those square dance moves.

  20. Michael says:

    I was thinking “Two X in search of a square dance” could make a good title for something, like a short story.

  21. JSE says:

    Oh there are lots of titles of that form, most notably “Six characters in search of an author” by Pirandello — but I was probably working more from “Two Characters in Search of a Country Song” by Magnetic Fields combined with “Three Farmers On Their Way To A Dance” by Richard Powers.

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