Deerfield High School senior David Lichko made school history when he qualified to participate in the United States Mathematics Olympiad (USAMO) in April.
“I’ve been here for 25-years and I’ve never had a student qualify,” Chuck Wathen, DHS Math Department Chair, said.
In order to qualify for the USAMO, students must dominate two previous tests. Around 100,000 participated in the American Mathematics Competition (AMC 12) in February. Then, Lichko, fellow student Jacob Glass, and about 12,000 others scored well enough to qualify for the American Invitational Mathematics Exam (AIME) in March. The AIME is a three-hour, 15 question test on subjects like geometry, calculus and proofs. Students are not allowed to use a calculator. According to Wathen, most students usually get two or three correct.
“Not only does it require an almost photographic memory of theorems but you have to be a critical thinker,” Wathen explained. Both Deerfield High School students did extremely well. Glass scored four correctly while Lichko solved 11.
“When I realized that I had gotten an 11 on the AIME and a high index, I was ecstatic,” Lichko said. “I immediately ran downstairs and told my mom. Both of my parents were excited.”
Only 500 students nationwide qualified for the USAMO in April, including Lichko. “That is unbelievable,” Wathen stated.
The USAMO is a six question, two day, nine hour essay/proof examination. All problems can be solved with pre-calculus methods. Lichko completed the test on April 24th and 25th. He explained the process afterwards:
“Hour One: Excitement about the problems and confidence that I could solve at least one of them. Hour Two: Confidence that I knew where I was going with one problem, so I could start on another one. Hour Three: Staring at pieces of paper filled with dead ends and trying to recover. Hour Four: Food low, morale lower. Last Half Hour: Quickly copy down whatever I have and hope that the graders are not detail-oriented,” the senior remembered about his first day of the exam.
“He’s highly motivated,” Wathen said about Lichko and reiterated how fabulous it’s been to have such an advanced student at DHS. “We’ve given him everything that we have here.”
Lichko agreed that his experience at DHS has been great and said he will pursue math next year when he heads to the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) for college.
“I like the elegance of math and its focus on problem solving,” Lichko said. “My plan is to major in pure math and either go into teaching or research.”
Once the results are in, the twelve top scoring USAMO students will be invited to a two day Olympiad Awards Ceremony in Washington, DC. Six of those students will comprise the United States team that competes this summer in the International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO). The goal of the Olympiad is to identify and encourage the most creative high school math students in the country.
Whether he competes or not, Wathen has high hopes for Lichko, “You don’t see to many kids like this,” Wathen stated. “He just gets it,” and noted that most great scientists have their most profound achievements between 18-to-24-years old. But for now, Lichko is just excited to be a teenager and head off to college.
“I'm most looking forward to the freedom of living in a dorm away from any marginally responsible adults,” the DHS senior said.