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"I asked myself,'Why can't it work?'"
June 4, 2012 4:49 AM   Subscribe

16 year old student from Germany solves 350 year old Isaac Newton puzzle Shourryya Ray, a 16-year-old German student, has cracked a puzzle that has stumped mathematicians since Sir Isaac Newton first posed the problem more than 350 years ago. The teen's solutions allow exact calculations of a trajectory under gravity and subject to air resistance. Bonus video of Neil Degrasse Tyson talking about Newton.
posted by THAT William Mize (19 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
Has anyone posted his paper describing the result? I've seen popular articles like your link talking about his soln, but nothing showing the work. Pardon my scepticism, but I prefer to see professional commentary before I believe this claim.

I don't doubt he is very bright and apparently quite accomplished at math.
posted by grimjeer at 5:01 AM on June 4, 2012 [5 favorites]


And then he goes out and puts a layaway plan hamburger on his dashboard, makes his buddy show up for his job interviews and then drives to California for a girl in a car his other buddies re-built for his birthday.

I love this one!
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 5:02 AM on June 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


This Dateline News link - Shouryya Ray Solution to 350-year-old Issac Newton Puzzle on Search by Physicists - seems to be the only one so far to address the math. It cites this Physics forum thread.
posted by raygirvan at 5:05 AM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Analytic solution to air resistance. Unless this kid's nickname is "Lord Rayleigh" and he has a time machine, he didn't do what this article says he did.
posted by DU at 5:05 AM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


This reddit thread has more details.
posted by Wolfdog at 5:09 AM on June 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


What exactly is the problem he solved? If it has gone unsolved for 300 years, who else has attempted it, how did they fail, and how is this solution different from their attempts? If no one else has worked on this problem, well, what exactly is the content of his accomplishment?

The Reddit thread says that "once we find the intial position and velocity of the particle, uniqueness theorems tell us its path is uniquely determined." It's been a while since I've done math but this step seems to glide a bit? What uniqueness theorem? This doesn't seem so obvious to me? I can't actually tell if the theorem applies in this case because you didn't tell me what the theorem you are citing is.

Maybe I'm missing the obvious but, it seems like the cited articles are lacking both the problem and the solution, so that when they say "he did something amazing" I have no way of knowing what.

Math deserves better reporting.
posted by newg at 5:30 AM on June 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


From the framing, this may be a worthy successor to Shiva Ayyadura
posted by hexatron at 5:40 AM on June 4, 2012


Newg: I thought so too until I looked at the equations in Wolfdog's link. Now I think I am fine with the article just stating "wunderkind is smarter than you".
posted by ts;dr at 6:07 AM on June 4, 2012


I can't put my finger on it right now (still digging) but I think I may have come across someone questioning this achievement.
posted by infini at 6:50 AM on June 4, 2012


Show off!
posted by stormpooper at 7:27 AM on June 4, 2012


27-Year-Old Blog Commenter Hailed As 'Genius' For Cracking Popular Science Claim About Alleged Genius Who Cracked 350-Year-Old Isaac Newton Puzzle
posted by crapmatic at 7:34 AM on June 4, 2012 [16 favorites]


I checked German news sources and found barely anything. However, Shourryya Ray participated it the reputable competition Jugend forscht and won the mathematics category for his state. He finished second at the federal competition.

There is a database called Jufobase where all participants may publish their work free of charge, but he doesn't seem to have submitted his work.

So it looks like his work was scrutinized by mathematicians, but not published in a peer-reviewed magazine or anything like that. Still, not bad for a 16-year-old!

(All links lead to web pages in German.)
posted by amf at 7:35 AM on June 4, 2012


Whoops, "barely anything" was supposed to link to this article in the German newspaper Die Welt: 16-jähriges Mathegenie löst uraltes Zahlenrätsel.
posted by amf at 7:36 AM on June 4, 2012


Mabe it's the 'stache, but he looks older than 16 in that video.
posted by sour cream at 8:05 AM on June 4, 2012


>The Reddit thread says that "once we find the intial position and velocity of the particle, uniqueness theorems tell us its path is uniquely determined." It's been a while since I've done math but this step seems to glide a bit? What uniqueness theorem? This doesn't seem so obvious to me? I can't actually tell if the theorem applies in this case because you didn't tell me what the theorem you are citing is.

In the context of ordinary differential equations, it can only be the Picard–Lindelöf theorem.

I agree that this needs better reporting. In the reddit thread, klackity could have derived that differential equation from the descriptions of the problem in the various articles we've seen, but they also seem to know what Ray's proposed solution is. But I don't see any source for that information.
posted by eruonna at 8:59 AM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


This kid is so, so, so much smarter than I will ever be.
posted by reenum at 5:58 PM on June 4, 2012


Here is an interesting blog post investigating how (and when) the reporting on this story veered into overstated hyperbole.

Short take-away: Ray did something quite impressive for a 16-year-old high school kid, but it wasn't as world-shattering as solving a 350-year-old previously unsolved problem. The news media blew up the story; it probably wasn't the kid seeking fame. I feel sorry for him, especially if people think that he is the one that made the outlandish claims, and hope this experience doesn't turn him off of pursuing this interest and talent that he has.
posted by forza at 9:52 PM on June 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


With Shourryya Ray's consent, two math professors at Technical University Dresden have published a short comment (PDF), detailing the work he actually did and putting it in perspective. [via]
posted by ltl at 6:18 AM on June 8, 2012


I have a nephew called Shorya (spelling is up in the air in roman alphabet) and its pronounced "Sure Yeah" as a total aside and derail in case people have been curious.
posted by infini at 7:58 AM on June 8, 2012


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