Some people can think of nothing worse than being faced with an unsolvable mathematics equation – but Zara Coulston-Williams thrives in that situation.
Last month the 17-year-old returned from the National Youth Science Forum, where she spent 60 hours learning from the best in the industry at the University of Michigan.
At the end of each class, Zara and 100 other participants from across the globe were presented issues such as “The Travelling Salesman Problem”, which asks “given a list of cities and the distances between each pair of cities, what is the shortest possible route that visits each city and returns to the origin city?”
“Our professors always introduced unsolved problems to us – they don’t have an answer and are extremely complex,” she said.
“Even making a little bit of headway on these problems can cause a massive stir in the mathematics community.
“We also learned about graph theory – it’s how we can visually represent or classify relationships – you might have a person and graph their Facebook friends and the relationships between everyone.”
Zara and two other students – one from Melbourne and one from Ararat – were the only participants from Australia selected to attend the prestigious two-week forum.
“It was a lot more similar to Australia than I was expecting, though I got confused a few times with words due to the cultural differences,” she said.
“I already missed America on the way back, it was such a great experience and I cried as I said goodbye to all the friends I had made.”
The Tallangatta Secondary College student hopes to start an undergraduate degree in math or science at Monash University next year with hopes to return to the University of Michigan for post-graduate studies.
And beyond that, Zara imagines herself working at a place like the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, or the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre.
“This year is nerve-wracking because it places a lot of stress on how you go school, but it’s also exciting to be taking that next step,” she said.
Zara thanked everyone in the community who rallied to support her trip, raising $5700 to cover her costs to participate in the program.
“I also want to thank my teachers for inspiring me to take up an opportunity like that,” she said.
“I think it showed me I can potentially achieve really amazing things in my future, as long as I am willing.”
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