Cookie Tray Theory Propels Student to D.C.

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Students from Stuyvesant High School are perennial entrants in the annual Siemens Competition in Math, Science and Technology. The Manhattan-based school produced a first-place winner eight years ago and a third-place prize two years ago.

This weekend, a 17-year-old Stuyvesant senior, Brian Kim, is traveling to Washington 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.

WNYC Listen to Brian Kim explain his math project to WNYC Radio

Brian's project is in math, and it is 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 tray so that they don't touch each other," he said. "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 said 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," Brian said, explaining that they are a part of everything from the computer game Tetris to cellphone towers.

"Cellphone 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 said he hoped to become a math professor at M.I.T. someday. But he is not going to tempt fate by talking about where he is applying to college right now.

He lives in Bayside, Queens, and has an older sister who is 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 were a little preoccupied.

"Right now at Stuyvesant, everyone is preparing for Intel, the other competition."