Students from <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/schoolbook/school/113-stuyvesant-high-school">Stuyvesant High School</a> are perennial entrants in the annual <a href="http://www.siemens-foundation.org/en/competition.htm">Siemens Competition in Math, Science and Technology</a>. The Manhattan-based school produced a first-place winner eight years ago and a third-place prize two years ago.
This weekend, 17 year-old Stuyvesant senior Brian Kim travels to Washington, D.C. as one of six high school students who made it to the national finals in the individual category. The prestigious honor comes with a $100,000 scholarship.
Brian's project is in math and it's called "Packing and Covering with Centrally Symmetric Disks." It sounds frighteningly complicated, but he says you can get the picture if you imagine packing cookies on a tray.
"Packing is like normal baking cookies you try to place them in a try so that they don't touch each other. That's packing. Covering is you're trying to overlap these cookies so that the entire tray is covered by these cookies. But you're trying to minimize the overlap. That's covering."
He says he got the idea from his mentor, a professor at Hofstra University, and worked on it over the summer and fall. He established a ratio between how well you could pack and cover a certain object with shapes.
"Packing and covering are topics which we all encounter," he said from the computer game Tetris to cell phone towers.
"Cell phone companies, they use towers and these towers transmit waves in, like, a circular shape. And then they're trying to place these different towers as efficiently as possible. So that the union of all the towers, they cover the entire nation so every point in the nation has coverage. But then they want to minimize the overlap so it's as efficient as possible."
Brian says he hopes to become a math professor at M.I.T. some day. But he's not going to tempt fate by talking about where he's applying to college right now. He lives in Bayside, Queens, and has an older sister who's studying humanities at Carnegie Mellon University. His parents are Koren immigrants who own a fish market in Jamaica.
When asked if his classmates at Stuyvesant are giving him a big send-off for the competition this weekend, he said they're a little pre-occupied. "Right now at Stuyvesant is preparing for <a href="http://www.intel.com/about/corporateresponsibility/education/sts/index.htm">Intel</a>, the other competition."