2012 team

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From 1986 to 2011, the United States Teams have brought home: 43 Gold Medals, 31 Silver Medals, 29 Bronze Medals, and 11 Honorable Mentions. — AAPT.ORG

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Photo of Kevin Zhou

Kevin Zhou

Traveling Team

Lincroft, NJ

High Technology High School

Grade: Junior


Piano, Quizbowl, programming, videogames


Math League, Academic Team, Computer Science League, Science Bowl


USAJMO Winner / MOP Qualifier, AMC 10 1st in NJ, ARML 1st Team / PUMaC and HMMT 2nd Team; Science Bowl 5th National Team; USABO Semifinalist; Moody's Mega Math Challenge 1st Team; Physics I and II League 1st in State


I've been interested in math even before I learned to speak English, after immigrating to the United States at the age of four. My parents taught me Gauss's trick for summing the numbers 1 through 100 not long after I learned addition, then told me what I thought was the coolest secret in the world: odds plus odds are always even. In elementary school, I calculated powers of two through 2^100 and tried to find cool patterns on my calculator (11...1^2 was my favorite; I never managed to find anything as good as 1/9801).

I've always been cautious about learning new things, and about using anything I can't both derive and intuit. As a result, I didn't learn much math beyond the standard curriculum in middle school (believing that mathematicians had gone a step too far with imaginary numbers), and I avoided physics like the plague. My only knowledge of physics came from documentaries on things like Relativity and String Theory, and the vague, quasi-mystical statements they made ("everything is a 11-dimensional vibrating string!") sounded as ridiculous as my math teacher's claims that a number squared could be less than zero.

This mistrust is exactly why I came to love mechanics, then physics in general, in my sophomore year, when I took a physics course taught by Dr. Martino. Everything sprung from Newton's Laws, which we applied to ever more complex systems. The results came out in real time, with the acceleration of our mousetrap cars timed with a pendulum. Best of all, mechanics was deeply intuitive: it was simply a formalization of things I'd been seeing all my life (minus the frictionless vacuum). Later in the year, my engineering teacher, Dr. Christoe, invited me to try the F=ma exam, and I passed riding on that intuition.

I scored barely 50 points on the semifinal, getting only the question on mechanics, but I don't think a failure has ever motivated me so much. When the solutions came out, I saw that they didn't use much that I didn't already know - they were accessible, and I just needed to know how to apply the equations. After taking the AP Physics C test, I devoted my time to carefully relearning everything, determined to understand the derivation of any equation that might be needed and to enhance my intuition. I spent some time at Mathcamp learning quantum mechanics in a small study group, which finally convinced me that modern physics really wasn't all nonsense. Later, I got over my fear of E&M, and learned some vector calc to deal with Maxwell's equations. This year, I managed to make the team. For that, I have my teachers, MIT OpenCourseWare, and AAPT (for making such an accessible, yet tricky test) to thank.

If there's anything I've learned, it's that physics is powerful, subtle, and deeply interconnected, and I wish more than anything that I could have told that to my skeptical younger self. I have no idea what we'll learn at camp, but I can't wait to meet you all and spend a few days doing the most awesome subject in the world.

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