Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
A love of math has led an Albuquerque 14-year-old to winning the top prize at a national STEM competition for middle school students.
Akilan Sankaran, now a ninth grader at Albuquerque Academy, took home the $25,000 Samueli Foundation Prize at the Broadcom MASTERS science and engineering contest Thursday for his project on highly divisible numbers.
For the project, Akilan wrote a computer program that calculates antiprime numbers that are over 1,000 digits and created a new class of functions to measure a number’s divisibility.
His project could allow for other software and apps like Shazam to run more quickly.
Akilan said he started working on the project for a science fair in December and was nominated to compete in the Broadcom MASTERS competitions after winning the state science fair competition in mathematical sciences.
“It’s been really surreal,” he said. “I’ve never done a science fair before, so this was a really good experience and I’d love to do it again.”
Though Akilan just netted a national competition win, his love of math didn’t really blossom until he was in seventh grade.
He said his teacher, David Metzler, showed him “the beauty of certain math concepts.”
“I really found that math is a lot more elegant than I thought it would be,” Akilan said.
“He just brings a real enthusiasm and joy for mathematics and he’s exceptionally mature in his approach to the subject for his age,” Metzler said.
Akilan is also the first student with a math project to take home the top prize in the competition’s 11-year history.
He said that since his project deals with theoretical mathematics, he had to work extra hard during science fair competitions to present his project in a way that was appealing to judges, like explaining what his project could potentially offer in the future.
Akilan said he plans to continue studying mathematics and is looking at competing in national STEM competitions as a high schooler, though the competition may be more fierce.
“We’re exceptionally proud of him, but not surprised,” Academy Head of School Julianne Puente said.
She said Akilan entered the competition because of his love for the subject and was not looking to win any prizes.
“The discovery is from a genuine curiosity, that’s what’s amazing about him,” Puente said.
Aside from mathematics, Akilan plays the piano and enjoys running.
The competition, which was held virtually, drew 1,841 middle school students from 48 states, Washington, D.C., and several U.S. territories, according to Aparna Paul, director of communications at the Society for Science, the nonprofit behind the competition.
Akilan, who is now in high school, was able to compete since he entered the competition as an eighth grader.
Paul said 30 finalists went on to compete virtually between Oct. 22 and Thursday.
Finalists participated in online team challenges focused on critical thinking, communication, creativity and collaboration, she said.