Geethi Loganathan doesn’t need to solve math problems using pencil and paper. She sees the answers in her mind.
And her talent in solving math problems landed her a spot in the North Carolina Summer Ventures for Science and Math program last summer.
Summer Ventures is a free, state-funded program for academically talented North Carolina residents interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) courses or careers. The program is hosted each summer by Appalachian State University, East Carolina University, N.C. Central University, and UNC Charlotte.
Geethi, a junior at Providence High, attended the program at East Carolina University. At the summer session, each student is asked to conduct research in a STEM field and present their findings, Geethi said.
During the month-long session, professor Robert Hochberg challenged Geethi with the task of solving a puzzle game he created, called Square Dance. The square board is segmented into nine smaller squares. In each square is a number, ranging from 1 to 9.
The goal is to unscramble the sequence of numbers and return them to numerical order using a series of rotations.
Hochberg wanted Geethi to solve the game, come up with every possible way to win and find every move a player could make.
She had four weeks to meet the challenge.
Computer code and math
Geethi started by downloading Python, an online program that computes codes and algorithms. This was her first time using a computer program to help calculate steps of an equation, she said.
The first step involved entering code for what the game should look like when solved – all numbers in correct numeric order. After creating the solved sequence, Geethi wrote code for each of the four major rotations that a player could make.
She worked late into most nights writing code.
From there, she created a dictionary in the processing program to define other possible moves a player could make.
Geethi then allowed Python to process all of the possible solutions to the puzzle, which took about two minutes, she said. She finished solving the game and creating a PowerPoint of her research the day before she had to present her findings. Then her PowerPoint presentation crashed. The steps to solving the game were clear in her mind, but she lacked a visual step-by-step explanation of how she solved the game.
Lights went out around 11 p.m. and Geethi worked by the glow of her laptop until 3 a.m.. She re-built her month’s worth of work in four hours, she said. “It was the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.”
Her work paid off. Geethi received the Catalyst Award at Summer Ventures and joined 400 other students from across the state to attend the State of North Carolina Undergraduate Research and Creativity Symposium at Duke University.
She is the first Providence High student to be invited to the symposium at Duke, said Jewel Abbott, Geethi’s guidance counselor.
“She’s a strong student,” Abbott said. “She’s in the top 3 percent of her class and she is taking tough classes.”
Geethi was one of only 10 high school students who participated in the undergraduate symposium held on Nov. 17, according to the symposium’s website. Prior to attending the symposium, she worked remotely with Hochberg, who had since moved to Texas. Together, they tweaked and expanded his game. “He was in Texas and I was in Charlotte,” Geethi said. “And we were running the program on six different computers.” It took four days for Python to process solutions to the new game.
At Duke, Geethi presented her research on the use of math algorithms and codes for solving puzzles to parents, educators and professionals in STEM fields.
Geethi plans to continue to work with puzzles and explain how she found solutions in the future.
“This is not something I want to drop,” she said.
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