The Berkeley Math Circle


The Berkeley Math Circle works with over 500 students all over from Bay Area. The program is supported through UC Berkeley Math, Statistics and Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) Department, MSRI, Simons' Institute and parents' donations. BMC meets on Tuesday evenings on the UC Berkeley campus. 

Math circles originated in Hungary more than a century ago. They soon spread over Eastern Europe and Asia, and since then have produced many of the great scientists from those parts of the world, in mathematics and in other disciplines. The math circles also led eventually to the start of many national and international math contests, including the International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO) in 1959 in Romania. It is widely believed that it is the presence of these circles that has enabled the youth of countries such as Russia, Bulgaria and Romania on the average to outperform the United States at the IMO. 

Given the success of math circles in Russia and Eastern Europe, it is surprising that it has taken so long for the United States to develop similar programs. The Berkeley Math Circle was founded in 1998 to begin to correct this situation. The San Francisco Bay Area and Berkeley in particular were natural choices for the site of a math circle, both because of the large number of talented high school students in the area, and because of the proximity of world-class institutions such as UC Berkeley from which experienced lecturers could be drawn. 

Although it has existed since 1998, the Berkeley Math Circle has become known to tens of thousands of people in the San Francisco Bay Area and across the country, through both word-of-mouth and the media. The program's success has been phenomenal; for instance, in year 2010-2011, about 200 students from approximately 50+ schools (35% of them girls) participated in the BMC, contributing to the excellent visibility of BMC with K-12 schools in the U.S. and to the outside world by virtue of previous students' positive experiences. We frequently receive requests from schools and universities across the U.S. and abroad for help in setting up their own circles. Circles have been started in San Jose, Stanford, Marin, San Francisco, Oakland and other locations throughout the Bay Area. Each year the majority of the Berkeley Math Circle students participate in the Bay Area Math Olympiad. About a hundred mathematics teachers, researchers, graduate and undergraduate students, as well as professionals from related areas in industry, are involved in the Bay Area math circles and BAMO each year. 

The success of Berkeley Math Circle in identifying and fostering talent is striking.

For example, in just one year, 2010-2011, our alumnus BMC student Evan O'Dorney (freshman at Harvard University in fall 2011), won the Intel Science Talent Search, received a perfect score on the USAMO, and earned the second highest score in the world -- and a gold medal! -- at the International Mathematical Olympiad in 2010 (held in Kazakhstan). He received a congratulatory phone call from President Obama in summer 2010, and met with him in person in spring 2011 after winning the Intel Science Talent Search. He also met with President Bush in 2007, upon winning the National Spelling Bee. He won twice the national contest "Who Wants to be a Mathematician" in 2010 and 2011, organized by the American Mathematical Society. Evan O'Dorney recently graduated from Harvard and is attending a one year program at Cambridge to complete Part III of Cambridge's Mathematical Tripos. Evan plans to pursue his PhD at Princeton the following year. Evan has participated in BMC for 5 years; he has lead a number of sessions himself, and has coordinated and composed the Monthly Contest for several years.

Evan Chen (Sophomore at MIT, BMC Monthly Contest coordinator/grader) is the twice winner of the USA Junior Math Olympiad (USAJMO), Bay Area Math Olympiad (BAMO) 2012 grand prize winner with a perfect score in the senior division, and winner of the Harvey-Mudd Math Contest in 2012. He has already taken "MATH H113: Honors Abstract Algebra" at UC Berkeley and participated in the prestigious Research Science Institute at MIT in the summer of 2013. Similarly, Evan has helped with the BMC the past few years. He is currently a BMC Monthly Contest coordinator and composer.

Likewise, there are many talented students currently in the BMC:

Laura Pierson (11th grader) is the BAMO 2012 grand prize winner with a perfect score in the junior division and winner of the USAJMO as a 6th and 10th grader. She also won silver medals at the World and European Girls Math Olympiads in 2012/13 in China and Luxembourg as a 7th grader (youngest member of the US team) and participated in the prestigious USA/Canada Math Camp in summer 2013. She also took Calculus II and MATH 110 at UCB as a 7th grader in 2012-2013 and scored highest among the hundreds of undergraduates, and skipped 8th grade to be accepted to College Prep in Oakland as a 9th grader.

Arav Karighattam (5th grader, 10-year old) has qualified for AIME 2013 as a 4th grader (second round of the national US math olympiad) and received honorable mention at the BAMO 2012, a proof-essay style problems for up to 8th grades. He took upper-division Combinatorics and Number Theory courses at UC Davis with stellar performance, and participated in the AwesomeMath Summer Program at UC Santa Cruz for middle/high school students as a 4th grader.

Espen Slettnes (3rd grader, 8-year old) scored almost perfect on AMC8 in 2012 and participated in the prestigious summer 2013 Epsilon Camp at Colorado Springs. He also won the BMC Monthly Contest 1 for grades up to 8th in fall 2013;

Although the BMC only started in 1998, the 6-member team at the International Math Olympiad (held in Washington, D.C., July 2001) included 3 members from this program:

  • Gabriel Carroll, graduated from Harvard as a math major and currently attending the Ph.D. program in Economics at MIT. He has won 2 Gold and 1 Silver medals at the IMO (including one perfect score in 2001), and won the Putnam competition 4 times. He was the grand prize BAMO winner 3 times.
  • Tiankai Liu, now at Harvard, won 3 Gold medals at the IMO. He attended the Research Experience for Undergraduates Program at Duluth, Minnesota in Summer 2007.
  • Oaz Nir has won 1 gold and 1 silver medal and has graduated from Duke University as a math major.

The three Berkeley Math Circle students contributed to the USA's second-place finish among over 80 countries at the International Mathematics Olympiad in 2001. In 2002, students from the Berkeley Math Circle and BAMO continued to do exceptionally well in mathematics competitions. Over the years, a number of Berkeley Math Circle students were among the top twelve winners of the USA Math Olympiad, and one was among the five students in the US with a perfect score: Inna Zakharevich (Henry Gunn High School, Palo Alto, Currently a student at Harvard University). Several other Circle students qualified for the summer training program of the US team several years in a row.

Among other famous alumni of BMC and BAMO, it is worth mentioning Maxim Maydanskiy who tied for first place with Gabriel Carroll at BAMO 2001. Maxim was admitted to UC Berkeley, and upon recommendation from the BMC circle coordinator, Dr. Stankova, his Circle and Olympiad activities played a major role in awarding him the Regent's scholarship, the most prestigious UC Berkeley scholarship for entering undergraduates. While at UC Berkeley, he also attended the Research Experience for Undergraduates Program at Duluth, Minnesota, and is currently a postdoc at Stanford, having earned his Ph.D. in Mathematics from MIT. Maxim shared some thoughts on his experience in BMC and BAMO:

"The impact of the program on my personal mathematical development is hard to overestimate. It was, and continues to be, the single most vibrant source of mathematical activity for high school students in the Bay Area. The lectures introduced me to many areas of mathematics, a number of which came up again in my later studies. The opportunity to meet a variety of people from fellow students to professors, the college campus setting, the overall atmosphere — all of that made the Math Circle unique. The program helped me to shape my plans for the undergraduate education. It was an experience no other sources could provide."

"I think the program has a great effect on mathematical youth in the Bay Area. It provides an interaction media and stimulating environment, both encouraging further involvement from students already interested in mathematics and promising mathematics to a wider audience. It is a great project that should be continued."

The most prestigious world-wide university level mathematics olympiad is the Putnam Competition. Former BMC members Austin Shapiro, Maxim Maydanskiy and Boris Bukh contributed to the nationwide 4th place finish of the UC Berkeley team at the Putnam Competition in 2001 and 2002. The teams placing first, second and third nationwide, from Harvard, Duke and Princeton, also were heavily populated by former BMC and BAMO participants. It is worth mentioning again that Gabriel Carroll won the Putnam four times, once while in High School.