Karnik 2nd in final

Karnik nets 2nd place in math contest

January 22, 2016
Karthik Karnik

Mass. Academy of Math and Science senior Karthik Karnik won second place in the national math competition “Who Wants to be a Mathematician?” at the Joint Mathematics Meetings (JMM) in Seattle, Wash., earlier this month. He was one of three students to make it to the final round.

“It was a great experience,” Karnik says. “I was eager to meet a lot of similar people who like math.”

The second-place achievement comes with a $3,000 prize for Karnik and $3,000 for his school.

Karnik says the format of the competition — which offered questions on a screen and required the 10 contestants to buzz in first to get an opportunity to answer — wasn’t something he’d experienced before. But the American Mathematics Society organizers’ offer of a practice round was more than welcome as a way of getting comfortable with the contest setup.

“It wasn’t that difficult, ultimately,” he says. “It was like a game show. We would respond on an electronic keypad, and judges would then look at that.” If a contestant missed getting the correct answer, the question would go back out to contestants, who would vie to buzz in first and attempt a correct answer. In addition to the unfamiliar format, the time limit was a challenge, says Karnik. Not only did the answer have to be correct, but it had to be submitted within the given time frame, on stage in front of about 200 people.

“Some questions asked for more difficult concepts or ideas — with limited time as well — so it was difficult to answer those questions in that time,” Karnik says. He did buzz and gave an incorrect answer.


Karnik, of Westborough, also did a poster board presentation at the JMM the day after the competition, on Jan. 8. The project, which he completed with partner Mikaeel Yunus, a senior at Newton South High School in Newton Centre, Mass., was on probability theory, work they had done together over a summer program at Boston University. “It was great to discuss the results of my project with mathematicians,” says Karnik.

Karnik has been exposed to STEM fields from an early age. He is a chess enthusiast — fascinated by the patterns of the game — and playing in the United States Chess Federation. Karnik’s parents are software professionals, and his grandfather is a retired university mathematics professor.

A national finalist in the National Geographic Bee in 2011 and 2012, representing Massachusetts in Washington, D.C., it wasn’t Karnik’s first time competing on a national scale.

As for how he’ll spend the $3,000? Karnik’s not sure yet, but says it might go toward college. He awaits responses to his applications, with an early acceptance to Caltech in Pasadena so far.