Newspaper article The Daily Yomiuri (Toyko, Japan)

Student Math Prize Named after Young 'Genius'

Newspaper article The Daily Yomiuri (Toyko, Japan)

Student Math Prize Named after Young 'Genius'

Article excerpt

A new prize will be awarded at this year's national "arithmetic Olympics" for primary and middle school students in honor of a mathematics "genius" who died of cancer last year aged just 31.

Kentaro Nagao was the first Japanese to win three gold medals at the International Mathematical Olympiad, a world mathematics championship for high school students, and was widely regarded as one of Japan's finest young mathematicians. The Nagao Prize will be awarded to the top student in the category for first-graders to third-graders at this year's contest, the finals of which will be held in Tokyo on July 20.

The arithmetic Olympics began in 1992 with support from Hungarian mathematician Peter Frankl and Heisuke Hironaka, a professor emeritus at Kyoto University and recipient of the Fields Medal, a prestigious prize often described as "the mathematician's Nobel Prize." In recent years, about 4,000 students have participated in the event.

Nagao placed 10th at the 1994 arithmetic Olympics when he was a sixth-grader in primary school. His obvious talents earned him a chance to come under the tutelage of Frankl.

"He could think creatively to solve problems, and he had a wonderful ability to explain things clearly and simply," Frankl said. "He was undoubtedly a genius."

His ability with numbers continued to flourish when he became a high schooler, and he won gold medals at the International Mathematical Olympiad in 1998, 1999 and 2000. After studying at the University of Tokyo, he progressed to graduate at Kyoto University.

"He was one of the top students of his generation," recalled Kyoto University Prof. Hiraku Nakajima.

But behind his sparkling achievements, Nagao was fighting a serious illness. When he was 15, a tumor was found in his left leg, and he was diagnosed as suffering from alveolar soft part sarcoma, a rare type of cancer that gnaws away at the muscles. …

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