Tanish Patil selected for International Mathematical Olympiad in Brazil

24 May 2017

Tanish Patil has been selected to be on the  Swiss national team which will participate in  International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil from July 12 to 23. 
Tanish has been at IIL since 2004 and has always stood out as a mathematician. In 2014 Tanish applied and was selected for a special mathematics programme (Cours Euler) conducted at EPFL in Lausanne. This course runs on Wednesday afternoons and is a complementary course to the curriculum on public schools in Suisse Romande. Students get a deeper and more abstract knowledge about high school maths, and get also exposed to branches of Mathematics that are normally only taught in university courses.

Unsurprisingly, Tanish has always liked maths, although he likes physics even more. “But I am far worse at physics.” Having said this, maths in school is perhaps the easiest subject for him, but by no means a walkover. “Even if you understand what you’re learning and you’ve covered lots of it before, it still takes time and concentration to get it right. On the whole, maths class still remains quite interesting: even if I understand a lot, I’m far from proficient in many aspects of maths and school always offers opportunities to learn more, brush up on what I know and gain new skills and ideas.”
During the past two years, Tanish has spent a lot of his time in maths classes working on problems from his Euler course, and on olympiad preparation exercise sets. His class mates have got used to his discussions with his teacher about group theory, number theory, linear algebra, or calculus, and about the need to not just have an answer, but to prove that it is indeed the answer. In the past months he also worked on a problem set that was part of the selection process for PROMYS Europe 2017, a programme aiming at creating a fully immersive experience of a community of students engaged with challenging mathematics. Tanish was offered a place for this summer’s course, but as it coincides with the IMO in Brazil he will probably not be able to go.

The IMO dates back to 1959, when it was organised for the first time in Romania. Until the mid 1960s, it was a contest between the USSR and eastern European countries, but then one by one countries like Finland, Mongolia, Sweden, Italy, France and the UK joined. Ever since, the event has grown, and last year not less than 109 national teams, each consisting of 6 secondary school pupils, competed in Hong Kong.

In Switzerland, the selection of the national team is done in several rounds by the association imosuisse. This year, two preliminary meetings in Lausanne/Zürich/Lugano prepared the students for the preliminary exam on the 14th of January. The 25 best students were then invited to continue to the Final Tour which included a weekend and a one week camp to prepare them for the Swiss Mathematical Olympiad on the 18th of March.

The four main areas of Olympiad mathematics are combinatorics, number theory, algebra and geometry, and usually the training sessions focus on small subtopics at a time: learning useful theorems and how to apply them. Tanish adds to this: “What cannot really be taught is when you will need to use what — it requires experience, instinct and a bit of luck. When you get an Olympiad question, there is no ‘right’ way to approach it — you just have to try different things and hope for a breakthrough, and as a result you can often end up with a group of students finding various ways to solve one problem.”

On this year’s Swiss Mathematical Olympiad, Tanish shared the 6th place. He then knew that there would be a chance that he could make it to the IMO in Brazil, but that he could as well just not make it: only the best 6 on the final selection on May 22 would constitute the team. This was an extra stimulus for Tanish to continue and practise for the Olympiad contest. With result: Tanish stood 3rd in the final selection. This was work that Tanish did in addition to the preparation for his IGCSE exams and OCR Additional Maths exam, as the selection weekend fell right in the middle of the examination period.

Last year, Tanish had already made it to the Final Tour, and got selected to participate at the Middle-European Mathematical Olympiad in Austria.

Geertje Hek