Joe ZurierResearching a complex math problem can be tedious, lonely, and exasperating. But in the case of CTYer Joseph Zurier, it also led to a giant scholarship and a week’s worth of sushi. Yay math!

Joseph, 17, of Providence, R.I., spent last fall investigating “the joint problem,” a geometric uncertainty that attempts to determine the maximum number of joints that can be created using a given number of lines. It has potential applications in computer graphics and medicine.

Joseph, who graduated from high school last month, determined a new upper bound for the number of times that three of the lines can intersect at a single point. And since it’s proving to be head-spinningly difficult to explain exactly how he did that, let’s just break this down in terms of cold, hard cash: Joseph earned a $50,000 scholarship when his project took second place in the Siemens Competition in Math, Science and Technology in December. He was named as a semifinalist in the Intel Science Talent Search a month later.

He says he was too exhausted to go all-out celebrating these science-fair successes, but his parents took him out to dinner, and for a whole week, they treated him to his favorite food, sushi.  

Joseph also plays tennis, but he swears he’s no King Midas, turning everything he touches to gold. For one thing, he said, he’s a terrible artist. “My drawing skills haven’t evolved since I graduated from second grade,” he confessed, adding, “to make the graphics for this research project, I had to spend hours tinkering with the computer algebra program Mathematica to make it generate the images I wanted.”

This spring, Joseph had to solve another tricky problem, albeit a wholly personal one this time: whether to attend Harvard, Stanford or MIT. He received admission letters from all three, and it took him several months, but he finally decided on MIT because he likes the school’s culture of scientific discovery. He’s planning to study math and computer science.