Swedish teen tackles centuries-old numbers challenge

A 16-year-old Iraqi immigrant in central Sweden has single-handedly figured out a formula with Bernoulli numbers that is normally reserved for much more seasoned mathematicians, earning him praise from professors at prestigious Uppsala University.

Swedish teen tackles centuries-old numbers challenge

Mohamed Altoumaimi, who moved with his family to Sweden six years ago, is a first year student at the Falu Frigymnasium high school in Falun in central Sweden.

Long interested in mathematics, Altoumaimi has spent the last four months toiling over his notebook in an attempt to write a formula to explain a number of complex relationships dealing with Bernoulli numbers.

The numbers are named for the 17th century Swiss mathematician Jacob Bernoulli and consist of a sequence of rational numbers which are important for number theory.

Needless to say, Altoumaimi’s teachers were more than sceptical when he showed up to school recently claiming he had come up with a formula all on his own.

“When I first presented it to my teachers, none of them believed that the formula I had written down really worked,” he told the Falu Kuriren newspaper.

Undeterred by the doubts of his teachers, Altoumaimi decided to contact a professor at Uppsala University in hopes of validating his work.

“Right away he wanted to take a look at all my calculations and the documents where I show that the formula really works,” said Altoumaimi.

While it’s not the first time that someone has shown such Bernoulli number relationships, it’s highly unusual for a first year high school student to make his way through the complicated calculations, according to Uppsala University senior maths lecturer Lars-Åke Lindahl.

“He’s a very clever guy,” Lindahl told The Local.

“What he did isn’t necessarily new, but it is quite remarkable for a first year high school student to take on these types of problems all on his own. It’s certainly an achievement.”

Lindahl verified Altoumaimi’s formula and proof before contacting his teachers to tell them what a gifted student he was.

“We’re going to keep our eye on him,” said Lindahl, adding that he told Altoumaimi he is welcome to come study at Uppsala University upon completing high school.

In addition, Lindahl has offered to provide books and tutoring to Altoumaimi in order to ensure he continues to develop his maths skills.

“I think he’s likely beyond being able to get the kind of help he needs from high school math teachers,” said Lindahl.

Altoumaimi’s high school plans to take advantage of the teenager’s skills with numbers next autumn by having him serve as an instructor for several math teachers in Falun and explain his work to them.

“It’s really exciting, now all the teachers have come and congratulated me,” he told the newspaper.

Otherwise, Altoumaimi plans to continue studying advanced math and physics over the summer.

“I wanted to be a researcher in physics or mathematics; I really like those subjects. But I have to get better at English and social science,” he told Falu-Kuriren.

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