The 2012 Julia Robinson Math Festival at Stanford

This is the fourth year I’ve taken Neil to the Julia Robinson Math festival at Stanford, and I came pondering if maybe this might also be our last. We’ve come a long way in the last four years, and Neil is now high school age. He’s finding his own clubs and activities with his peers, both age-wise and/or intellectually. And it’s time for me to focus on Kelly’s passions and let Neil take fuller responsibility to identifying the clubs and events he wants to do and explore himself.

Luckily for the whole family, Kelly has embraced math, and wants to be a geek, just like the rest of her family on the geek farm. So I signed her up to do some of the activities as well, and she did remarkably well. She asked me for help on the last two questions on one puzzle about Primes in the Land of Evens. I couldn’t figure them out, and she’d done really well on the rest. Later, I saw her intensely working on a game theory puzzle called Who Took the Candy? with the facilitator helping her.

Later she told us it was her favorite puzzle, and told us all about it, and how it worked. According the MSRI website, among the activities, it rated as a 3 out 5 in difficulty, so that’s pretty impressive for an 8 year old.

There seemed to be a lot of younger children there this year; some of it may be my own perception. Now that Neil looks older, those who were his age 4 years ago look much younger. But there were also a fair amount of 7, 8, and 9 year olds and younger. I’m just getting around to understanding that the Bay Area has a lot of academically precocious kids, just like Neil. I used to despair there were none like him, and suddenly it seems there are a lot.

The Math Museum had a display set up, and I tried applying mathematics to my face. I can squeeze my head! And twist it! And mangle it! Neil’s been excited to see the Math Museum, but its permanent NYC location won’t open until December of this year. But luckily for us, they’ll have their Math Midway at the Lawrence Hall of Science starting in September of this year. Can you say Charybdis and Scylla Academy field trips?

This year’s star lecturer for the festival was Vi Hart, whom we already know from Gathering for Gardener. There I had thought people had gotten a wee bit wild with her geometric balloon sculptures at G4G9, but professors are downright reserved when it comes to exploring the potential of the art. Even the maddest mathematician couldn’t match for the irrepressible enthusiasm of youth. Balloon pyramids on heads were ubiquitous, and they easily tied into pyramid upon pyramid:

This young woman worked multiple shapes into the kind of hat that could take the stage at Beach Blanket Babylon:

But the most OSSUM example of the medium of geometric balloon sculpture was created by this boy, posing with his buddy (who may have had a hand in putting it all together):

If he ends up designing spacesuits for NASA some day, don’t be surprised.

I met some fellow homeschoolers, and Neil saw some of his fellow mathematician/puzzle acquaintances. I told a mom with one of those precocious 7-year-olds about the Stanford Math Circle’s elementary school program; it also appears as the league of young geniuses gathers numbers, there’s more appearing to serve them, but I have another post planned on that. We had to go before we could find out what Vi Hart could complete the video editing to show us what we’d all been singing, because I had a husband with a damaged hand at home who needed help with home remodelling. I’ll see how Neil and Kelly feel about going next year, but this year, a good time was had by all, as usual.


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