EGMO Diary Part 2

9th of April

For preparation, I did exactly the same thing as yesterday, because that seemed to help me tremendously. We did nothing for 45 minutes, and then stretched for the last 15 minutes. 

The test opened with a geometry — great! However a slight scan at the other two gave me the impression that they are elaborate, complicated Number Theory + Combinatorics questions. That scared me a little bit, but anyways I have to focus on geometry first.

Continue reading EGMO Diary Part 2

My Experience at IMO 2019

The Irish team at IMO 2019

This year IMO took place in the University of Bath, UK, on July 11 to 22. It may not have been an exotic destination compared to recent years, but it a beautiful location nonetheless. 

The competition

The two 4.5 hour papers took place on Tuesday and Wednesday. All 600 contestants attempted to solve 3 questions each day in a large sports hall in the university. Day one covered algebra, geometry and combinatorics while day two’s problems were about number theory, combinatorics and geometry. You can view the problems at https://www.imo-official.org/year_info.aspx?year=2019. Ireland did relatively well this year, Tianyiwa Xie and I both received honourable mentions, for problem one and four respectively. Lucas Bachmann won Ireland’s second silver medal ever, in over thirty years of competing, which was fantastic! 

Excursion

We could choose one excursion from several options such as Stonehenge and Glastonbury. The Irish team opted to visit Oxford. After being given a brief introduction to the maths course at the university in the magnificent mathematics institute, we were lucky enough to receive a talk from Andrew Wiles, the mathematician who proved Fermat’s Last Theorem. His informative lecture covered finding solutions to equations and briefly explained some of the topics he conducts research into. I found the lecture to be both fascinating, since research maths is something I have little experience with, and quite accessible. After this the group was split up, the Irish team were taken on a tour of Mansfield College. Our tour guide was friendly and informative, while the college itself reminded me of Hogwarts. We then had free time to explore the city. It is a beautiful, historical city with spectacular buildings, but it was difficult to get an inside into the atmosphere of the town during term time since it was mainly full of tourists. Despite the awful weather, it was a great visit and very helpful for anyone considering studying maths at Oxford.

Other activities

We had a great guide, Tasos, who brought us all around Bath and the surrounding countryside.  We went to Bristol and walked across the city to see a suspension bridge with an amazing view. As a team we played card games some evenings. The opening ceremony was short and to the point, speeches were kept to the absolute minimum, with the main event being the team parade. The closing ceremony, which was held in a marquee in the university, was similar. Afterwards there was a funfair, dinner and live music.

My experience

Overall I enjoyed IMO. I really enjoyed solving problems both in training and the competition. I loved exploring Bath, it has gorgeous architecture and a rich history, and despite the heavy rain, the trip to Oxford was fantastic. The papers this year were nice and I enjoyed solving the problems. Participating in maths olympiads has really allowed me to develop my problem solving skills and mathematical passion and ability. Thank you to everyone who organised the IMO and who organises the training and enrichment classes in Ireland for making it all possible!

My Experience at the International Linguistics Olympiad 2019

Team Ireland

I’m writing this on the flight back from the 17th International Linguistics Olympiad(IOL). IOL 2019 took place in Yongin, South Korea from the 29th of July to the 2nd of August, and it was a fantastic week. Ireland was represented by myself (Laura Cosgrave), Keelan Daye, Flynn Ryan and Páidí Walsh. We were accompanied by the best team leaders, Cara Greene of ADAPT and Harold Somers. IOL is a relatively young Olympiad at international level, so it is much smaller than IMO, with 209 contestants from 53 teams representing 36 countries/regions. The smaller number of participants means that it is much easier to do activities as a group and to get to know people.

The Contest

 Tuesday was the big day – the individual competition. A six hours exam with five tough problems, this was certainly a challenging, yet enjoyable, experience. It was like nothing I’d ever done before, despite being used to 4.5 hour papers from IMO and EGMO. It left us exhausted – but not too exhausted for karaoke! You can try the problems yourself at ioling.org/problems/2019/. My favourites were problem 2, which won solver’s choice, and problem 5. 

The team contest took place on Thursday. Each team of four contestants had three hours to solve a challenging problem that requires communication, collaboration, logic and ingenuity. This year teams had to decipher the scoring and writing systems used for rhythmic gymnastics. Although this does not resemble a typical linguistics problem, the system of symbols is actually a writing system, with the main features of one. Teams were provided with laptops to watch videos of certain rhythmic gymnastics sequences. Some teams even tried to preform the moves themselves! The problem was fascinating and we really enjoyed solving it.

The excursion

We had the opportunity to really explore Korea on Wednesday, with an excursion to Seoul. We learned about the Korean Hangeul writing system, and its history at the National Hangeul Museum, as well as getting an insight into Korean culture, with a concert that creatively combined both traditional and modern Korean music and dancing, including traditional drums, a traditional fan dance, and breakdancing. After this we had the opportunity to explore the Gyeongbokgung palace. Completely different to anything I had seen before, it was beautiful and has an interesting history. It was the main palace of the Joseon dynasty. 

We then spent an hour or so exploring tourist shops and buying souvenirs. We visited a Buddhist temple, something that I had never seen before. The temple had gorgeous gardens full of flowers and was very peaceful. The day was finished off with dinner in a buffet restaurant. A lot was packed into one day and we really enjoyed it and learned lots about Korea.

The team in Seoul with Philip, a volunteer from Ireland

My experience

IOL was an unbeatable experience. There was a fantastic program of activities, we were always having fun and meeting people. Between karaoke, games, a machine translation lecture, IOL’s Got Talent, IOL Jeopardy and #LinguisticsMakesFriends(a group activity that involved matching a long list of texts with the correct language), we were never bored. The social side of IOL is fantastic, one of the reasons the Olympiad was founded was to encourage teenagers who love linguistics and problem solving from all over the world to make friends, an aim it is definitely achieving. I met dozens of lovely people from all over the world and made great friends. Of course, solving this year’s problems in the individual and especially the team round was an enjoyable, mind-bending challenge. Linguistics is a fascinating field and I’m excited to learn more about it! From my own experience and from talking to people, it is definitely one of the most enjoyable science Olympiads. Thanks to Minkyu and the other organisers for organising it all and ADAPT and our team leaders for making Ireland’s participation possible. 

To learn more about the All Ireland Linguistics Olympiad and to find out how to participate, visit ailo.adaptcentre.ie.

-Laura Cosgrave

Photos from the ADAPT Centre


EGMO Diary Part 1

Introduction: European Girls Maths Olympiad (EGMO) is a mathematical contest similar to the International Maths Olympiad. It takes place every year in April and it aims to inspire more girls to participate in Olmpiads and take pleasure in exploring the world of mathematics. This year EGMO took place in Kyiv, Ukraine.

7th of April

So, here we are again, at the 8th rendition of European Girls’ Maths Olympiad!

We set off on the 7th of April, top of the morning. The flight wasn’t too bad, we exchanged at Amsterdam and the total time we spent in the air was no more than 4 and a half hours. We were lucky, compared to other teams from Australia or India where after spending 30 something hours in the air they still have to solve the problem of jet lag before going to solve the problems in the maths contest.

We arrived at Kyiv late that evening, starving and falling asleep. The hotel was marvellous, with 22 floors, which is the tallest building some of us have been in, and the bag we got was amazing and full of goodies. My favourite thing in the bag was a hair band with flowers on it, following the Ukrainian tradition for girls to wear wreaths on their heads.

8th of April

Today we got up late and enjoyed the bright morning sunshine in Kyiv. The opening ceremony in the morning was very enjoyable, the speeches were not long at all and it’s very interesting to see all the countries. After lunch, our guide Halyna, offered to take us to the city centre. She is really kind and incredibly eager to tell us all about Ukraine and learn about Ireland. We also kind of adopted another guide, Ivan, who is a friend of Halyna’s, and he has something to tell us about everything in Ukraine.

We went to a few shopping centres, visited the central square the Maiden, and experienced the deepest underground railways station in Europe. (whole 3 minutes on the fast moving escalator!)

We got back relatively late, around 8, and we are positively exhausted. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, because tomorrow is the exam and we need a lot of sleep.

We packed all our stuff, did a last minute review of some generaal tops, and went to bed at 9:30. A good night’s sleep, that’s what is the most important part of the maths olympiad preparation.

9th of April

Exam day No 1!

Exam starts at 9:30 and last until 2 o’clock in the afternoon. We got assigned breakfast time, and ours is the earlier shift, 7 to 8. I thought this was unfortunate, because it meant that we would get less time to sleep. However as later event turns out, this hour actually has its advantages.

Because of this time to burn, we went back to our room after breakfast and deliberately did nothing but sit there and controlling our breathing. It helped me calm down, empty my mind and oil the machineries in my brain. Later on we did stretches in our rooms, and it calmed my nerves immediately. When I met our leader in the hallways, she said the minute she saw me: “You look more relaxed.” Indeed, I had never been this relaxed while walking into the exam hall, and I think this state of mind actually helped in my exam.

I opened the paper, and found that either the first nor the second problem is a geometry, which in normal circumstances might cause me to freak out a bit, but that day I was relatively calm and just started reading the question.

Question 1 was algebra, my worst area, really. I think the most difficult part of algebra is that the letters and the computations are so abstract it’s often hard to truly grasp what’s happening in the full picture. You’ll have to keep your mind open and try every single possible technique, and along that line it’s easy to lose your way or go further and further down the wrong track. Sometimes by the time you realise that you are on a crooked path, you don’t have much time left.

For the first hour and a half, I was jotting down equations, manipulating them, changing their form by using factorising, observing patterns and symmetries. It’s easy to make a mistake and sometimes small things like writing “c” instead of “a” can have devastating effects. And after all that time I didn’t seem to be making much progress. All calculations I tried led to three symmetric equations that were neat but weird at the same time. They were concise enough, but I was not sure how to use them. And my work quickly became very messy, I had no idea where one led on to the other and it takes me awhile to even find the sheet I was just writing on. That’s when I decided to turn to geometry.

Granted, this was a risky thing to do, maybe it was a bit reckless of me, because the geometry was at the position of a question 3 — the hardest problem in the paper, and it was there for a reason. What gave me the courage, I think, was that geometry is my strongest and I have managed solved a EGMO geometry question 6 before (And I have hung up the draft paper proudly on my wall). So I drew the picture, and jotted down a few ideas that immediately came to my mind.

Geometry in my opinion, is really like a scavenger hunt. (well, all olympiad problems are, but geometry I think is especially like this) You wander about in the unfamiliar landscape noticing things and gathering clues. Once you get something, use that as a landmark and try extract more things from it. Our amazing geometry teacher (also our leader) like to use the metaphor of someone lost and trying to find their way back… you have to look for a clear noticeable thing in your field of vision, like an overhead power line. There would be cities at the end of the line. Then you work your way across the desert and across swamps but keep your eyes on the line.

So I noticed a few things, some obvious, some not so much, and then somehow after 45 minutes I thought I had a solution.

In retrospect, alarm bells should have been going off there—45 minutes for a question designed to challenge the gold medalists? But I guess I was under pressure and didn’t think much. I was happy, of course, thinking that I have one problem under my belt, so even if I don’t solve question 1, it won’t be too bad a result from day 1. Calmer and reassured I went back to solve question 1, this time employing the technique our leader advised us to use, which is using one separate sheet of paper to track all our progress. This is like drawing a map for yourself, tracking all the steps, writing down all possible things to try at each step, and if one doesn’t seem to work, you can use this to find the last place you stopped at and try another. And I also tried to be careful and probe a bit more before diving into one method of manipulation, just in case it won’t work out.

And chocolate, of course! I took one chocolate break, and I can almost feel my energy level pump up, much like the advertisement you see on TV, where someone stuck in a dismal situation takes a bite out of a bar of chocolate and suddenly there’s flowers and summer breezes and there’s golden light and magic and rainbow and he’s completely energised… that is exactly what happened to me.

All things combined my stress level had decreased, and suddenly I looked up from one line of equation and there’s the solution staring right at me. I gave a mental high five, looked up, and it was 45 minutes left.

I wrote out my solution neatly, arranged everything, and went back to looking at question 3. I noticed halfway through that I have made a mistake, classic mistake of too much wishful thinking and assuming something right. Shots of adrenaline went through my bloodstream, and I struggled to write down any other observation that might lead to a solution, that might get me a few marks down the road.

The last 20 minutes went by so fast. I spent it all trying to find a solution to the problem, to no avail. Frankly I walked out feeling quite disappointed with myself, because although solving question 1 was good, I spent way too long in that question.

I was comforted soon enough, by eavesdropping on the contestants sitting around me talking. Israel 1, India 1, … all saying that they got 2, maybe 3. These were world class problem solvers, and if they think that they only got two problems, then me getting 1 and maybe a little more does not sound entirely too pathetic.

Ah well, no one knows for now and we’ll know soon enough. We went into the shopping mall in search of a hot beverage, and slept or read or done nothing for the afternoon.

Around 5 in the afternoon just before dinner, we went down the hall with a box of games our leaders brought for us and went in search of people from other countries to play games with. We found the members of the Australian team and the Danish team, and we started playing the classic game of Avalon together.

Historical note 1: Avalon the game is a variant of game The Resistance, first released in 2012. In Avalon, the game features Arthurian Knights against evil minions of Modred, and it is a game of deception, lies and manipulation. First introduced by our team leader at her house during one of the training camps, it has now become the standard game for all Irish maths olympians and mischief lovers. Study shows that it is also popular among maths enthusiasts all around the world.

It was an amazing bonding experience, we made new friends among the two teams and got to know each other well.

After dinner, a girl from the UK team approached us and invited us to play a game of Irish Snap.

Historical note 2 (according to the UK team): Irish snap, also called Chinese snap, is a poker game involving reflection time and slapping on tables. You also have to be good at remembering rules as new rules keeps appearing and disappearing, and it’s easy to lose track. The game never ends.

Have to say, we have 4 members in the Irish team, with quite a few Chinese descent, none of us have heard anything with relation to the Irish snap/ Chinese snap. Just as well, it was a great game which became heated in the end before we switched to Avalon. We played till 8 in the evening (Avalon can often drag on forever) and at that point we decided to go back to our room. Another day ahead of us!

IMO Diary Part 3: Post Contest Adventures

10th of July-11th of July

We had two days of excursions
As such are the traditions
So that the teachers could correct our papers
With no distractions


After two days of examinations
We set the alarm with precision
To catch the bus that will take us far away
2 hours to our destinations

Long bus rides were such an exertion
And the mountain roads were no relaxation
The boredom was the worst part because
There ‘ain't any activity of gratification

Normally at times with no occupation
We memorise a math olympiad question
And reason and calculate in our heads
Or lay down a few equations

But now everybody was in a state of exhaustion,
Our brains too ill to function
Anna sitting on the left side was just too car sick
To start a conversation

Why didn’t we play games for recreation?
But it’s so hard to reach a decision
When you’re in a hot, stuffed car
near the state of suffocation

Poker had been a temptation
But we do not wish the affliction
Of crawling around in a moving car looking
for a card scattered in an acceleration

At last we were here, to our alleviation
And where, exactly, were the tourist attractions?
This time Salt Mine Turda and Alba Iulia
Places of fascination

Only, only we were part of the exhibition
As people took photos and documentations
Of a group of weird people in similar attire
Walking around with no sense of direction

All the fame and reputation
Have no reason for glorification
For they still forbid us to get on the ferris wheel
Due to the age restrictions

Despite the various limitations
We still found delectation
In new bonds formed, new friendships made,  
During the socialisations

And ice creams made perfection
I’ve had several, despite parents’ prohibition:
“At most 3 per 2 weeks!” But who cares?
When I’m out of their domination




Ah, I’m being a bit unfair there, the excursions were very enjoyable, if I say these two days were a little low point of the entire trip it was because the rest of the days were just too marvellous. The bus rides were indeed a bit tedious, but we did work around it in some ways. We also made loads of new friends, and that’s the best part!

12th of July

Today was the closing ceremony and farewell party. So I should probably mention the results now.

We got our results after the trip to the salt mine. When I got off the bus, I saw our deputy leader at the front door. I could feel my heart skip a beat, and I pasted a smile on my face and went over slowly. I knew that I did not do well in the exam, and I had an expectation of a really really low score in my head. So all of us walked up to her…

And she went: “Ok now you got 5, you got 5… we tried very hard to get you more marks but we couldn’t get it higher than that, we think your answer is definitely worth more, though.. You got 16, well done!! I think you have a good chance of getting a medal…” And now she turned to me: ”You got 3…”

Now what happened was I BEAMED!! I was so happy I was actually jumping up and down. Our leader was very kind and caring, she obviously thought I would be disappointed or sad so she was very gentle and tried to sooth me and comfort me, but after a few seconds I think everybody realised that my lunatic behavior was actually from the heart, not trying to appear strong or something.

Lucas patted me: ”There, there.”

Not realising this as a joke, I said: ”No, I am GENUINELY happy that I didn’t get zero!!”

So that’s that. No more anxieties and worries now that the dust has settled, the only thing left was to enjoy the every last minute of the remaining journey.

This morning, we walked around the city under the sunny sky, fed the pigeons, ate traditional Romanian food, went into bookstores after bookstores…it was bliss. I could not have had a better morning than this.

We had to go back for lunch and the closing ceremony in the afternoon. We all knew what the closing ceremony would be like, so we just sat back and secretly read books.

Afterwards, it was the event we’ve all been waiting for: the farewell banquet! We had some prior knowledge about what will happen— in short, a disco.

We had a beautiful dinner together, sitting together with the TTO team. The main dishes there were a little bit weird to my Asian taste, but the desert was superb…I had two creme buleés.

Meanwhile, a band was busy setting up on a stage and soon there was music. People started gathering at the foot of the stage and moving with the music. I was awkward at first, but soon I got comfortable as more people joined in. We were gathering together and lining up and forming circles all the time— I was constantly pulling people into the dancing, and I tried with every effort to pull the Chinese team in. The teachers were very supportive and loved to take part, and followed me into the crowd, but the teammates were less active and only one of them tried it briefly. The teachers confessed to me later that they were mindblown to see this kind of festivity.

I should give a clarification here: My “dance” basically consisted of jumping up and down as long as I could, and lots of other people on the crowd couldn’t dance either. We were just moving together because of the immense force of energy that was flowing around us.

At one point, I had just come down to have a rest when this guy, with his T-shirt soaked in sweat, came up to me and said: ”I don’t understand, why are you not dancing??? I don’t understand why ARE you not DANCING???” I protested ”But I just came down and I was dancing for the last 3 hours…” But he won’t listen, so he pulled me into the crowd and I pulled Anna into the crowd and Anna pulled the TTO team into the crowd and so we started again.

It was one of the best dancing experience I’ve ever had, dancing came so naturally, and moving was like an instinct. There is something about the math olympiad discos.

IMO Diary Part 2: Contest

9th of July

Long story short, first day was not so well…

I didn’t sleep well yesterday and this morning I was quite a mess. I was on the bus and trying to wake my brain up by doing multiplications. Yet instead of waking up it just caused me to panic when I could not figure out what is 15 time 15 and what is 25 times 25.

After getting to the arena at a little past 8, I just sat there doing nothing. Can’t really do reviews now, as all our things are taken away from us except for some food and our pencil case. The contest was due to start at 9 and a half. I spent the hour trying to wake up and figure out what is 15 times 15. On my desk, there was a bottle of water, a banana, a few snacks, my name tag and the folder for the questions. In the folder, there was a sealed envelope containing today’s questions, in whatever language you like, and three smaller folders that you are supposed to put the answer sheets in. There are two types of paper, one yellow for scratch work, one green for a formal answer. There were 5 cards in the folder for “Water” “More paper” “Toilet” “Questions” and “Help”. If you need anything, raise the corresponding card. Before the test even started, I raised my white card to ask for more paper–10 pages that were given would not be enough, I knew.

4:30:00. The test would be 4 and a half hours long. I opened my envelope as the timer started ticking away, and was relieved to find Q1 to be a geometry–my strongest subject. Nice.

I scanned through the questions and quickly jotted down all thoughts that came to my mind. Geometry, use equal angles, similar triangles or perpendicular lines? The third one (Although the possibility of me even trying the third one is rare) is a combinatorics question—guessing, and induction? Sequences might be involved…  I have to use the first half an hour to make sure I understand the problems and have no doubts because, after the first half an hour, you are no longer allowed to ask questions.

I’m quite a beginner in Olympiad, so I am not expecting anything better than an honourable mention. Therefore I would focus all my energy in solving the first problem.

4:00:00 Geometry—get cracking! This one involves circles, isosceles triangles, and parallel lines. Not a common combination, I had to say. But the graph looked easy enough, and given the difficulty of the Q1 problem of the past few years were not high, I was fairly confident.

3:00:00 Wait, wait, wait… I wasn’t going anywhere! This keeps going round and round in circles! I assumed the wrong thing! I took a deep breath and asked for more paper.

2:30:00 I diverted my attention to Q2, an algebra question, hoping a ray of inspiration will hit me as I was busy thinking of something else.

However, my brain kept whispering: Algebra is not your strong suit! This is a Q2! Your best bet is on Q1 and I won’t have you not getting it because you wasted half an hour on a question that you won’t ever get out anyway. A wave of anxiety hit me as I was trying to figure out what should I do.

2:00:00 I was trembling. I raised the green card and escaped the room to go to the toilet. I ran to the toilet, locked myself in, raised my arms to form positive posture that according to Amy Cuddy (For anyone who have not seen her TED talk, super recommend!) will improve my confidence and overall performance. I splashed some water on my face—calmer now. I ran back to the exam hall. No time to lose!

I made up my mind now. Just do Q1— Even if I can’t get it out at least I can say I tried my best.

1:00:00 I drew my 5th graph of the problem and went over my data. Looking back, it’s amazing how fast time past when you’re stuck on a problem.

0:30:00 Although I know I still have hope I’m already accepting the possibility of not getting anything out of day 1. This was a cruel thought, my cheeks were burning and my head was throbbing and my hands are trembling. I told myself—relax, calm down, accept the fact and be happy. There’s nothing you can do about it, you tried your best, so be it. Walk out of here smiling.

0:20:00 I checked my answers, numbered them. I presented all I have, hoping, basically, to not get zero.  

0:10:00 I took one last frenzied look at the graph–ray of inspiration?

0:05:00 I wrote my name. Loudspeaker bellowed.

0:01:00 I put the answers into the folders. Arranged them neatly.

0:00:03. 0:00:02. 0:00:01. Time’s up. The timer turned red.

It was not a good feeling, walking out with a bad result. I was trying to be optimistic and telling myself that this is the first day, it was not over and also, it is the experience that matters, not the marks. But still, I did feel very disappointed with myself and it was still quite exhausting for me now, sitting here, half a year after, remembering it.

I stayed relatively calm and joyful after the exam and didn’t freak out. For the entire day afterwards I managed to push the thoughts of the exam into a box in the corner so that I could still focus on the present. We went shopping together…I thought it would be completely weird for us to, out of all the things, walk around a supermarket and not buying anything, but it turned out to be a fun and relaxing time.

After the hustle and turbulence of the day were finished, in the night lying by myself in the dark, I started reflecting. I comforted myself by thinking “I did my best” and of course internally I had doubts—did I actually try my best? Could I have done better? Could I have coped better and explore more and think more instead of just sticking that same point in the same question?

But the optimistic side, of course, was that there’s another day out there, and also—although it is a big cliche already— The marks weren’t everything and I just decided to try my best and go for another day.

10th of July

So this morning…

While walking into the big arena…

I had a eerie feeling that something BBBIIIGGG will happen.

I tribute this to the extra big mug of coffee I had this morning. But anyways, something did happen that morning, so who knows… sixth sense?

We arrived at the arena at around 8 o’clock, like yesterday. Less nervous I walked around the arena chatting to friends. I spent loads of time finding everybody from my team (when I found them, turns out everybody are at the table of the New Zealand team). I also managed to find my friend from Iran, friend from Ecuador, and friend from China.

Apparently, it wasn’t only me, everybody was much more relaxed than yesterday. A contestant was doing push-ups on the floor and his team members were around him counting. (I actually think this was the spark that inflamed everything that happened afterwards )

About 40 minutes to the exam start, I went to the bathroom and even before I re-entered the hall, I could hear roars of applause coming from the arena. Not wanting to miss anything, I speed-walked back and this is what I found (photo source: 2018 Cluj-Napoca facebook page)

Of course, I was shocked to find that a lot of my friends were lying down as if they were just having a relaxing day off in the warm sun on a Hawaiian beach. And the next thing I knew, I was lying down with them on the concrete floor, facing the bright fluorescent light. It really helped with the butterflies in my stomach.

But the next thing that happened made the butterflies flutter even quicker. The committee apparently thought it was a good idea to put on climatic music on the second day of the contest so the arena began filling with dramatic Start War type of music. The music was really tempting for something big to happen, maybe it was just me and my butterflies, but I thought I could even feel the tension building up inside the room.

After a while, everybody started getting up… and started taking a stroll around the hall. I mean, why not? A stroll was very healthy, particularly in an international exam hall with several hundred people including child prodigies and possibly future Field medal winners from all across the world. Soon everybody was in a parade, pulling their friends and motioning to the volunteers to join in. When the atmosphere had built to this extent it was impossible not to start running, so everybody started to jog. Frankly, the speed was quite fast and I was panting and sweating after just a couple of lapses. (Were the people leading this a maths prodigy AND sports champions?) But I felt not at all tired, I felt exhilarated, running alongside my friends, old and new, running in the stream of brilliant minds from all across the world.

After a while, everybody was getting a bit tired and had to stop for a while. Just when the parade seemed to be ending, a boy in a yellow shirt picked up the flag of IMO from the row of flags at the side of the room and started sprinting with the flag flying behind him. Soon, the flags of different countries joined in. The teammates of each country started grabbing their flag and running after it, and soon the entire scene seemed far too surreal. My vision was soon filled with the moving colour and the moving stream of people waving their flags, and I couldn’t pick up all the information that’s flowing around me all at once. Almost if I was travelling the world, almost as if I’m joining a global community. We change posts in leading the flag whenever one is too tired in sprinting. And have I mentioned the music?

We moved to the back the room after a while, and raised the flags over our heads and gathered them together. We raised them on tiptoes, trying to reach as high as we can.

View from below, the flags are shining under the light of the big arena, the flag of IMO being held among them. We hugged our friends, shook hands with strangers and right here the young people from all around the world were connected through one single event. It was maths and knowledge that surpassed the boundaries of countries and brought all these people together under one roof.

We finally put the flags back where they belong and then slowly sat down. It was 10 minutes to the exam. The music slowly died down. But I was still panting and heaving from excitement, and I felt a strong surge of confidence as I looked at the folder with my challenge inside. I turned around, and smiled to the Indian contestant sitting to my left to whom I have never talked to before, and said: ”Good luck!”.

Am I over-romanticizing this? I must admit that I might be, as I thought that this will make world news but later nothing happened. But I was so very deeply affected by this event, I was almost on the brink of tears as I hugged my teammates and my friends from around the world.

Raising the flag of Ireland there in that Arena almost felt like raising the Olympic flame to me, and the resemblance is very strong in my opinion. One of my teammates later joked that this might be the closest we have ever come to world peace…

IMO Diary Part 1: training camp

Bit of introduction:

IMO (International  Maths Olympiad) is an international event hosted for pre-college students, it’s an annual event of 6 hard maths problems that required a lot of creativity to solve. The test is spread out over 2 days, each day with one paper, each paper consists of 3 questions and students are given 4.5 hours to solve them individually. Each participating country will send a team of 6, plus a leader and deputy leader. IMO 2018 (2nd of July-14 of July) took place in Cluj-Napoca, Romania.

2nd of July

12:00 p.m.

This is the big day! I have no idea what awaits in the next magic two weeks, and l’m sure I’m gonna love it!

On the plane: nothing much happened, we did problems and discussed together, and I finished reading the handouts from the training camp. In general no one disturbed us.

We got to the hotel, where we would be training with the team from Trinidad and Tobago, Everyone’s exhausted, yet I didn’t fall asleep immediately, I was stuck in this half-dream-half-awake state in which that I have to satisfy 3 equations in order to be allowed to sleep…

3nd of July

Very long day of training! We had our training session in the hotel dining room, the glass window above turned the room into a real greenhouse, and we’re really toasting while doing the math problems. We had three sessions, one on Number Theory, one on combinatorics and one on geometry. I got really stuck on a geometric question at the end of the day, and at one point I thought I got a solution. During supper, I was on the process of writing it down when I realized the solution doesn’t work and that I assumed something is true. I got really frustrated, as you can imagine, and I really could not taste the food in my mouth… It was the most surreal supper I ever had, and I wasn’t be able to sleep that night!

4th of July

I GOT IT!

I lay in bed thinking about the math problem last night, and I thought I had an insight, so this morning when I woke up, the first thing I did is to scribble down my solution. I completely abandoned my method from yesterday, but it took me very little time to get it out once I was on the right track. I was so happy, but at the same time bewildered that this question could take me so long.

We went to the Babes-Bolyai university today to train where our team leader managed to get a room. We trained the entire day, and in the evening we went to the national botanic garden to relax. In this process, we had loads of fun, and we got to know the Trinidad and Tobago members really well. They were all super nice, and I found a surprising shared passion with one of the teammates in our love of singing Disney songs and practicing Spanish. We would burst into spontaneous songs and dances and acting in the middle of the street, which caused everybody to stay away from us in order to save their faces.

I heard that the friendship between the two countries dated back a long time ago, when one of the IMOs was held in South America. We have been in touch since, and often trained together year after year. I think this kind of connection is really touching, how people from different time zones could be connected by a single event.

5th of July

Training! It was intense but I like it. At the same time though, it just taught me that I have a super long way to go. Ego losses occur.

Also, a very mind-opening conversation occurred between me and my teammates. We talked about what subject we are going to study at university. A lot of people’s are, without a single slight trace of doubt, mathematics. I, however, was still wavering between physics and maths. My interest in physics was peaked by a brilliant teacher, who was a deeply philosophical person and connected his teaching of laws of refraction with the philosophy of life and scientific methods. I was fascinated with the idea of exploring and figuring out the true law of nature. I never really considered maths a possibility, because it had a reputation of being hard and I never thought of exploring it any further than school work.

They shone some unique light into the difference between science and maths.”They have completely different ways of thinking, science is external coherent, and maths is internally coherent.”

I asked what this meant, and they explained that in science, you observe something that happens, and develop a theory to interpret it. Hence external coherent, you wrap your system around your observations. In maths, however, you build up you theories from the most basic axioms, and you never, never for the world contradicts what you already have with what you are developing, unless there is a desperate incoherency which forces you to break the limits, like what happened when people started to question the Euclid fifth postulate and developed projective geometry.

I found this an acute angle of looking at the difference between science and maths. This triggered great mental conflicts in me, and causes me to consider: is maths maybe for me?

6th of July

As a break, we decided on embarking on a great journey to Cheile Turzii (at least, that’s what Google map told us where we were).

We had a trip across the valley, looking at the beautiful mountains and the pairs of butterflies on the meadows. We crossed a brook barefooted to avoid having to walk all the way to use the bridge, and met up with a friendly shepherd and his flock of sheep. This picturesque country scene made me fall in love with the country immediately.

It was a great excursion, not to mention our great picnic under the trees and Romanian traditional dessert while doing math in the shade on the hilltop. (and feeding the shepherd dog that was always hungry) Oh, that moment was such a colourful moment, one that I would never forget.

And just after we finished our lesson on spiral similarity, however, there came the sound of thunder. A large clot of grey cloud hang heavy across the sky, and seemed to be coming at us. The shepherd started herding the flock of sheep over the hill back home. Some of us were a bit worried while others were unconcerned and insisted that staying under the trees will protect us very well. While we were debating, thunder can be heard rumbling down the hill and the Irish team would not stand it any longer. We raced down the hill, just when raindrop started to fall. We found a restaurant at the foot of the hill, and took cover under an umbrella. The minute we got settled, the rain started splashing down, blurring all our vision and even angrily invading the space under the umbrella. The rain covered the world in a thin sheet of downpouring water. About 10 minutes later, we saw the people who decided to stay slowly walking across the hill soaked in rain, a bitter smile on their face… We couldn’t stop laughing!

Looking back, it was a great adventure but I had to thank my luck. To think, I had my passport in my bag and everything. If that got soaked…

7th of July

We had a review session in the morning, we trained in a dark underground lobby, and because there weren’t any chairs everybody sat on bean bags, REALLY comfy!

We went over what different types of questions could come up in different topics of olympiad maths, and what to do to meet the different challenges. The session is really structured and helpful. Next, we headed to our official hotels where we will be staying with the other teams. Our two teams arrived a week early because we would like to train together for a week before the actual contest starts, but actually, most of the countries arrive on this day. Turned out, though, all the countries are spread out across 4 different hotels, and our team and the Trinidad and Tobago team were separated cruelly. This was a pity, given that a huge part of IMO is socializing, and now we won’t get the opportunity to talk to a lot of other teams.

The best part, though, was the goody bag! A grey, neat and smart looking backpack that was stuffed full with stuff, two T-shirts, one of which have the “dance of the functions” on it (Which I LOVE! I want to dance every time I see someone wearing it) an earphone, a water bottle, a tray (yes, a small breakfast tray, to my great bewilderment…we still haven’t figured out what is the meaning the committee is trying to convey) and the Mascot, a cute little teddy bear with a small head and big body called ”MIMO”. We tried out the games room, which is a common feature of IMO, a room in which people can play games and play chess and relax and socialize. However, this year’s game room only had a handful of people in it, and they are from the US and Canadian team, so after 5 minutes mt teammate Anna and I went back to our room, feeling a bit intimidated (after all, these are IMO gold-medalists!). The boys stayed, though, and we were very curious about their result in their fearless contest against those amazing mathematical minds.

8th of July

The boys told us what was the result of yesterday. They did lose a few rounds of chess, but in the end they developed a strong bond with the New Zealand team by a game of Monopoly, which, as it turned out, later became a bit chaotic and no one knows who is the winner.

Today was the opening ceremony, so we changed into fancy clothes and went to the big arena which will be our exam room the very next day.

We looked around the find the Trinidad and Tobago team and found them seated very much to the back. We had like an hour before the actual thing starts, so we started chatting around. I chatted with the girl sitting in front of me who was from Iraq. This was her first year here and will be her last as she was in her final year in highschool. She was really nice and we exchanged contact numbers took a selfie together.

I was on the edge of my seat trying to get up and chat with the Chinese team. I come from China, and of course, I have long heard of maths olympiad team in China which held endless mystery to me. I was even strangely nervous when I saw them seated not too far from us. “Go!” my teammates urged me, and after hesitating a while, I went over to say hi.

They were a bit shocked when I approached and greeted them in Chinese. The two teachers started to chat with me while the 6 team members eyed me curiously at a distance. I felt a bit guilty, actually, to think that back in China I guess I won’t even be able to get in city-level selection, yet here I am, standing together with the Chinese team who have struggled for so long and trained for years to be here.

The teacher discussed the difference between western and Chinese education systems with me, and he thought that the western education system indeed holds many possibilities for students to explore their full possibilities. Like me, for example, never in the world will I go and poke around the realm of mathematics if I were in China. Whereas here, I was already starting to think of choosing maths as my future field of study. This is stuning change that I could never see coming.

Anyways back to the Chinese team. The 6 teammates looked the kind of quiet student you might think you could find anywhere in your district, but wait until you hear their history… In the 6 of them, 3 are accepted into Tsinghua University, 3 are accepted into Beijing University, the top universities of China! And by “accepted”, it was not the ordinary admission, it was the type that guarantees the university entrance, no exam results needed (ok, well, you’ll have to pass, but you really don’t need to bother about it much).

While we were doing all these socialising, the team leaders of different countries are sharing the problem sets from their countries. Turned out, this is a “ritual of exchange”, if you will, between countries. Each country would bring a booklet of the problems in their country and share them around with other countries. An exchange of knowledge and resources.

The opening ceremony itself was not all that exciting, loads of speeches, and we tried in secret to do maths problems. The parade of countries was interesting, though, we had our ”three minutes of fame” as we walked on stage with our Irish flag.

After the ceremony, we started taking pictures with other countries, and we also got to walk around a little and socialize with other countries. I found a lot of friends from EGMO (European Girls Maths Olympiad). Friends from Ecuador, friends from Ukraine…

In the afternoon, we had the choice of going to the arena again to see our seatings for tomorrow. However, we preferred instead to go to a street food festival just next to the arena. Yum!

After dinner, we went to the supermarket to buy food. The test would be long and people would get hungry. It was always recommended to buy food that you like and would give you energy, as long as the food was not, according to IMO instructions 2018, crunchy and noisy.

Women in Mathematics Conference

On the 29th of August, the Women in Mathematics 2018 conference, hosted this year by the School of Mathematics and Statistics at University College Dublin took place. The event was an amazing experience, we got to meet up with interesting people across the mathematics field, and the audience was able to learn so much more about mathematics. At the beginning of the talk, Minister Mitchell O’Connor talked to us about the importance of bringing more girls into maths, and joy one can find in exploring the field of STEM. After the motivational talk, the audience gained amazing insight into the life and work of Sheila Tinney, an Irish mathematician, physicist and educator. She was also the first Irish woman to achieve a PhD. And there were also introductions from other women involved in mathematics about their work. Works involving the use of mathematics that ranges from health statistics to physics, including a project involving the building of a database for public libraries. An element of pure maths was introduced as well, which involves a bit of intuition and brain cells to understand, but awe-inspiring at the same time. It was fascinating to hear about where mathematics can take you across the world and across different branches of study.  It was very motivating to hear about their work, and for me, deeply reassuring. Being a girl dreaming about going into mathematics, to hear about the real-life achievements in mathematics of other wonderful women makes my choice seem less daunting to me.

I think there is a power in conferences and talks like this. It has a deep effect on the audience, whether they are involved in the field already or a member of the general public. It give insights into other people’s work, it opens up our eyes and can lead a change in our minds. Connecting with other people who have the same interest and passion, and clash your idea with them can spark creativeness and friendship you never expected to happen.

In the morning, there was a group of Transition Year students who caught an early train just to attend this conference. I think this was the best part of the conference, spreading dream of STEM in the hearts of students of the next generation…and who knows? The next Sheila Tinney might have been in the audience that very day.

BT Young Scientist Exhibition

BT Young Scientist Exhibition (henceforth abbreviated into BTYSTE) is a large scale science exhibition in Ireland, and it is a platform for high school students to innovate, create and explore. As the BTYSTE website described, it is an unforgettable experience of a lifetime for the students who take part. And I completely agree with in this statement, in the two times I participated, I went home each time with a completely different perspective to the STEM field, as well as the potential young people can have.

The exhibition has two parts, in the fist part students interested has to enter a one page proposal and some more information onto the website, and those projects that qualifies would be able to compete in the final round, where students would be able to display their project and have the opportunity of communicating with other students with their unique ideas.

In the preparation stage one has to write a project report (Hard work there! So time consuming and my experience is that it is even easier to do the project than writing out the report), a project diary and design a poster. The day before the exhibition, students go to the big exhibition arena to set up. The time is needed as some projects require large machines or different demonstration props. and then comes the hardest and most exciting part: the exhibition itself!

The most daunting part, of course, is the judging. There are at least three rounds of judging for each project, and the presentation of your project to the judges can have equal importance as your project report. The project book shows all the details and your scientific knowledge, but the presentation gives an outline and shows your passions. A good presentation can be absolutely crucial to the evaluation of the project, and I personally found it so much harder than I thought it would be because you will have no clue where to start and if you does not have it planned beforehand the result can be a quite disorganised speech!

The exhibition is also a test for persistence. I have chatted to a participant who, every day after returning home from the exhibition, would carefully analyse how he did in his presentation today, and consider if there are any flaws to his project and if there is room for improvement. Then he would do more research and add in more details to his project. He did this to the very last day, and his hard work also paid off in the end, he got home on the last day finally relieved and holding a wonderful prize.

Of course, the prizes aren’t everything, the most exciting part is to be able to chat with other people. I cannot describe the motivation I felt after talking to amazing people my age, seeing their ability, and getting to know what I can work towards. It is also eye-opening to hear about their creative ideas.

Talking to the people who came to visit is also a tremendous joy, there are all sorts of people who come around and ask you the most amazing questions. There are people who are experts in the field and would throw you off guard with a detailed technological inquiry. There are people who are genuinely interested and would listen to you talk without end, and there are people who understand you and would discuss in detail with you the potential of the project. It is wonderful to get your ideas heard and appreciated. Sometimes, even crazier things happen, such as a job proposal, or a trade of name cards. These conversations can sometimes lead to more amazing adventures, and for ambitious people like us, there’s nothing more thrilling!

All in all, it is a wonderful experience that leaves you smiling when you remember it, and it cracks opens doors into worlds you have never explored before. I cannot but think what a marvellous thing it is, for a high school student to be able to take part and experience such an event. It might just change a life or two.