- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 4, 2015

KENNETT SQUARE, Pa. (AP) - You are not going to understand the topic of Shashwat Kishore’s research project, and that is OK.

Suffice it to say that those who do understand it - a branch of abstract mathematics called representation theory - are very impressed.

“What he did could be a good part of a Ph.D. thesis for a graduate student at a good university,” said Pavel Etingof, a math professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

That will have to wait a few years. Kishore, 18, is a senior at Unionville High School in Kennett Square.

The teenager is among 40 finalists this year in the Intel Science Talent Search, a national competition for 12th graders that draws a lot of mental horsepower. Eight past finalists or semifinalists have gone on to win Nobel Prizes. Twelve have won MacArthur Foundation fellowships.

For Kishore, also a standout student in the humanities and a skilled clarinetist, the math itself is ample reward.

“I like math because I feel that it is both elegant and powerful,” he said. “To me, it’s amazing that we have entire bodies of theory that are rigorously proven from scratch.”

In March, he and the other finalists will go to Washington to present their work and compete for one of three $150,000 top prizes. Overall, Intel is doling out more than $1.6 million to finalists, semifinalists, and their schools. More than 1,800 students entered.

The Philadelphia area often sends a representative to the finals. In 2013, there were two: Jonah Kallenbach of Germantown Academy, who won second prize, and Meghan Shea, who, like Kishore, went to Unionville High School.

Kishore, of West Chester, credits the school with encouraging students to conduct independent research. He pursued his first project in the ninth grade, urged by biology teacher Sandra Litvin and by Shea, then in 11th grade. That one involved using a mathematical model to study pesticide resistance in mosquitoes that carry malaria.

His project for this year’s Intel competition is more abstract and lies in the realm of basic research, though it is related to math used in the ongoing development of advanced machines known as quantum computers.

Briefly, the teenager’s project involved the use of matrices - arrays of numbers - to represent an abstract mathematical object called a quantized quiver. The result is a 37-page paper, replete with mathematical proofs.

Doug Vallette, Unionville’s science department chair, was dazzled.

“We may find out 10 years from now it’s going to unlock our understanding of the electron in ways that we didn’t understand before,” said Vallette, who has a Ph.D. in experimental physics from the University of Pennsylvania.

Kishore got started on the project a year ago, after he was selected for MIT-PRIMES USA, a university program that invites high school students to conduct research under faculty supervision. Etingof, the math professor, suggested the topic that ultimately led to the Intel project, Kishore said.

Math and science run in the young man’s family.

His mother, Suchismita, has a master’s degree in chemistry; his father, Sheel, an information-technology consultant, has degrees in electrical and biomedical engineering.

Then, there is older brother Shaunak, who competed in the International Mathematical Olympiad while a student at Unionville, winning a gold medal in 2008. He now works at Google.

As for the younger Kishore, he began going to Unionville High for math class in seventh grade, when he started out in Algebra 2 and switched to precalculus halfway through the year.

He took calculus in eighth and ninth grades and has moved on to more advanced topics through independent study and one online course.

Aside from being a whiz kid, he is unfailingly humble, friendly, and helpful to students who need tips, say principal Paula Massanari and Carrie Dickmann, coordinator of the gifted and talented program.

“He’ll answer any question at any time,” Dickmann said.

As for next year, Kishore said he has been accepted to MIT and is waiting to hear from Harvard, Stanford, and Carnegie Mellon.

But first comes Intel, where other bright students will be sharing the attention. Whatever happens, Etingof said the 12th grader clearly belongs.

Asked to describe the teenager’s work, he said:

“It’s extraordinary.”

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Online:

http://bit.ly/16zG8vs

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Information from: The Philadelphia Inquirer, http://www.inquirer.com

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