by Benjamin Chen, Class of 2017, Diamond Bar High School
On Sunday, April 13th, 2014, over 100 students and parents of all ages and varying degrees of interest in math squeezed into an auditorium at Vanguard University. The subject of such enthusiasm and interest? A two-hour long lecture by Professor Po-Shen Loh, a math professor at Carnegie Mellon University. As the national lead coach of the USA International Mathematical Olympiad team, a MOP instructor since 2002, and a silver medalist at the 1999 IMO, Professor Loh has garnered prodigious mathematical experience and led an illustrious mathematical career, speaking internationally at math circles and prestigious universities from New York to Los Angeles, as well as in Germany, Poland, Canada, Korea, and Japan.
To begin his lecture entitled “Big Numbers,” Professor Loh introduced a simple penny game involving six buckets and then transitioned to a problem from the 2010 International Math Olympiad. After introducing the magnificent world of mind-bogglingly gigantic numbers, he skillfully explained the nuances of solving a problem involving such huge numbers, while engaging the audience by asking them to find the next step in the solution. When the audience seemed daunted by the problem, Professor Loh encouraged them to say whatever came to mind, regardless of whether it seemed right or not. Those in the audience gradually voiced their ideas and comments as he declared, “Every wrong answer is a step towards the right one.” Step by step, Professor Loh revealed a miraculous solution to the problem, and the audience was left inspired by the fact that they themselves had contributed to the solution to a seemingly impossible question.
Professor Loh ended his lecture by discussing two interesting subjects: Knuth’s up-arrow notation, a simple way for writing obscenely large integers, and graph theory. His enthusiasm for math was evident as he talked excitedly about incomprehensibly large numbers and how they can appear in mathematical results. In this way, he showed everyone the interesting and multifaceted nature of mathematics after high school, encouraging the audience to follow and develop their love for math.