- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 3, 2016

Kendall Clark has a beautiful mind, full of mathematical concepts and equations. So when the Baltimore 10th-grader heard of a global search for young brilliant mathematicians, she naturally applied for a position, thinking her chances slim.

She miscalculated.

Friday night, Kendall was a special guest for a White House panel on mathematics and a private screening of “The Man Who Knew Infinity,” a new theatrical release about Indian mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan.

“Kendall blew us away,” said Ken Ono, founder of the Spirit of Ramanujan Initiative, the global program for young mathematicians.

Kendall is one of the first students selected to participate in the Ramanujan Initiative, which will pair 30 people around the world with local mentors and award some applicants the opportunity to pursue university-level research.

“It never occurred to me that math would take me on this path,” said Kendall, who didn’t think of herself as a “math person” until her freshman year.

“Last year, I started at the Park School of Baltimore, and that’s where I met my teacher, Dr. Katherine Socha,” Kendall said. “She was different from teachers I had in the past because she really put an emphasis on tinkering with the problems, looking at what you’re doing and understanding the process of coming up with an answer.”

Friday night, Ms. Socha was at her side as the room full of people listened to Mr. Ono speak alongside White House data scientist D.J. Patil, National Security Agency mathematician Andrea Hairston and Oscar-winning actor Jeremy Irons, who plays Ramanujan’s mentor, G.H. Hardy, in the film.

(Ramanujan, who died in India in 1920 at the age of 32, was a self-taught mathematician who made significant contributions to the fields of number theory and mathematical analysis, among others.)

The panel, hosted by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, was the latest in a series of events focusing on the importance of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The panel discussed the unique ways in which 21st century mathematicians are able to explore creativity and cleverness as technological advances help shatter the image of math being boring.

The panelists emphasized the influence of films like “The Man Who Knew Infinity” to inspire people young and old to see the beauty of math.

Mr. Ono, who is considered an expert in Ramanujan’s area of mathematics, got involved with the film when the director, Matt Brown, asked him to assist with props for the movie.

“We were supposed to Skype for 15 minutes the next day and those 15 minutes turned into three hours,” Mr. Ono said. “Two days later, I was on a plane flying to Pinewood Studios [in England], and a few weeks after that I was helping in rehearsals.”

Working on the film inspired him to create a platform to nurture young minds like Ramanujan’s mentor did for him.

“Our goal is to make connections to help each winner thrive,” Mr. Ono said. “And if we do it for 30 people this year, maybe next year we’ll do 60 and continue growing into something great.”

The Spirit of Ramanujan Initiative is accepting applications through Dec. 1.

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