Two High School Girls Discover New Proofs Of 2,000-Year-Old Math Problem


Emily Cope Contributor
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Two New Orleans high school seniors claim to have solved the Pythagorean theorem using trigonometry — a method academics have held to be a logical impossibility for nearly two thousand years.

Calcea Johnson and Ne’Kiya Jackson, students at St. Mary’s Academy in New Orleans, presented their discovery at the American Mathematical Society’s Annual Southeastern Conference in Atlanta, Georgia. Johnson and Jackson were the only high schoolers in attendance at the event, where math researchers from institutions across the southeast gathered, The Guardian reported.

The Pythagorean theorem established the fundamental relationship between the three sides of a triangle. In geometry, the theorem is summarized as a2+b2=c2. For two thousand years, mathematicians have argued that because trigonometry — the study of triangles — depends on the Pythagorean theorem, using trigonometry to solve the theorem would be circular. But researchers at the American Mathematical Society believe Johnson and Jackson’s presentation may have just challenged this two-thousand-year-old rule.

Johnson and Jackson claimed to have found four new proofs to the theorem without committing a circular fallacy. Prominent researchers at the American Mathematical Society were so astonished that they are encouraging the pair of high schoolers to submit their work to a peer-reviewed journal to confirm the discovery.

“Members of our community can examine their results to determine whether their proof is a correct contribution to the mathematics literature,” Catherine Roberts, executive director for the American Mathematical Society, told The Guardian. Roberts added that she and her colleagues “celebrate these early career mathematicians for sharing their work with the wider mathematics community.” (RELATED: Professor Claims Math, Algebra And Geometry Promote ‘White Privilege’) 

“It’s really an unparalleled feeling,” Johnson told WWL. “There’s just nothing like being able to do something that people don’t think young people can do. A lot of times you see this stuff, you don’t see kids like us doing it.”

The pair credited their teachers at the all-girls Catholic high school they both attend for pushing them to accomplish what mathematicians have thought impossible, referencing the St. Mary’s slogan, “No excellence without hard labor.” The girls are set to graduate this spring and told the outlet they hope to pursue careers in environmental engineering and biochemistry.