Iowa City West student heading to Seattle for math contest

Among 10 students nationwide competing in 'Who Wants to be a Mathemetician'

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IOWA CITY — A sophomore at Iowa City West High School is one of 10 students from across the nation competing Thursday in a contest called “Who Wants to Be a Mathemetician” in Seattle.

Junhee Lee, 15, has been a member of West’s Math Club for four years, since attending Northwest Junior High.

To qualify for the “Who Wants to be a Mathemetician” contest, Lee had to take a couple of qualifying exams. He said his favorite areas of math are geometry and calculus.

“For geometry, it’s the mostly visual aspect. I really like shapes, and how shapes interact with each other,” Lee said. “And I think calculus is interesting because it introduced a completely different way of viewing the world mathematically. It was a whole new concept.”

Lee said he hasn’t done much to prepare for the contest, aside from studying up on mathematical history, in which he said he lacks some proficiency.

“I’m looking at some facts to help me prepare for that,” Lee said.

This is the seventh year of the Who Wants to Be a Mathemetician competition, which is part of the Joint Mathematics Meetings attended by more than 6,500 mathematicians. The top prize is $5,000 for the winner and $5,000 for the math department at the winner’s school.

“It’s a mix of a quiz show format, like ‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” Lee said of the competition. “The more questions you get right, the better odds you have of winning. They’re all mathematical questions.”

Lee said he’s interested in becoming a mathematician or doing something to do with math, but hasn’t given it much thought.

“I’m more focused on doing well in high school classes and things that aren’t math,” Lee said.

That includes playing the trumpet, “one of my favorite things to do,” Lee said.

“A lot of people think that if I like math, I’d like science, but I don’t,” Lee said. “I really like music and I like my English classes a lot.”


The Who Wants to Be a Mathemetician contest is from 9:30 to 11 a.m. Pacific (11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Central Time) on Thursday at the Washington State Convention Center in Seattle. You can watch a live webcast of the event at

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