Black high school students solve math problem thought to be impossible for over 2,000 years


Two New Orleans high school students recently attended a conference where they proved an “impossible” math problem by using trigonometry. For more than 2,000 years, mathematicians worldwide have thought solving Pythagoras’ Theorem was an unattainable feat — until now.

Calcea Johnson and Ne’Kiya Jackson, who are enrolled at St. Mary’s Academy, a private Catholic all-girls school in New Orleans, are making headlines after attending the American Mathematical Society’s Southeastern Section’s semi-annual meeting in Atlanta earlier this month. It was at this conference where the two students presented their findings and titled them “An Impossible Proof of Pythagoras.” Johnson and Jackson were the only high schoolers present among the pupils from campuses such as the universities of Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana State, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Texas Tech, The Guardian said on Friday (March 24).

The Pythagorean Theorem states that the area of the square whose right side is the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the areas of the squares on the other two sides. Jackson credited the math instructors at St. Mary’s for helping them achieve the victory. “We have really great teachers,” she told local New Orleans news station WWL-TV. Johnson added, “It’s really an unparalleled feeling, honestly, because there’s just nothing like being able to do something that people don’t think young people can do. A lot of times you see this stuff, you don’t see kids like us doing it.”

“Members of our community can examine their results to determine whether their proof is a correct contribution to the mathematics literature,” Catherine Roberts, executive director for the American Mathematical Society, suggested of the two New Orleans residents. Roberts hopes that the pair will proceed with studying math in order to have a promising career in the field. “We encourage them to continue their studies in mathematics,” she said.

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