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Photo of Handong Wang

Handong Wang

Los Gatos, CA

Los Gatos High School

Grade: Junior


Swimming, Math, Reddit, TF2, Piano


Swim team, Math Club, CS Club


USAMO (2015-2017), USAJMO (2014), USACO Platinum (2016), National MathCounts, (2014), HMMT (2015, 2017), CMIMC (2016), CHMMC (2014-2016), American Protégé, International Music Talent Competition (2015)


Once upon a time, there was a lab rat that was rewarded for every two-digit multiplication problem it solved. Ten years of feedback looping later, the lab rat took some physics classes and now here I am.

No, but seriously, the journey's been quite unexpected, incredibly fun, and deeply beautiful.

At the time, I was in second grade. It was a humble and somewhat perplexing start, but my grandmother, a former university vice president, knew how to make it fun for me. She slowly gave me a clear understanding of basic algebra and geometry and a deep fascination with math.

My hunger for more rewarding math was satisfied in middle school by many fascinating classes and summer camps. Initially, out of sheer competitive desire, these classes and camps focused on middle-school level competition math only, a great improvement over calculators’ work, but with its fair share of formulaic problems. However, this study allowed me to qualify for National MathCounts, which our California team won first place in. As a result, perhaps the single most influential month of my life, May 2014 was a blur of after-school studying, pride, adventure, and tears of joy. Never had I ever been so motivated in my life.

During this emotional rush I took an online physics class on a whim which I didn’t pay attention in. I ultimately got a C, which was probably more than I deserved.

However, these math classes and camps were so inescapably important for fueling my interest, as my success in this formulaic area better prepared me to enter the really interesting areas of math. The same books that taught me basic combinatorics formulas crucial to competition math taught me how to properly prove mathematical theorems, starting from axioms and other theorems and rigorously arriving at one result. I learned about various intricate and often beautifully linked concepts, such as quadratic reciprocity, Pell’s equation, recursions, functional equations, generating functions, and more.

And then earlier this year I took another physics class. I was dubious, since I had received that C earlier, but I had matured since then, and I was confident that my math knowledge would show me the way. Furthermore, since eighth grade, I had also become a lot more interested in science in general, graduating from mere Popular Science to reading MIT Technology Review. Once again, I quickly acquainted myself with the basic problems of physics. This study allowed me to pass F=ma. I was then able to study Electricity and Magnetism, a far more interesting and beautiful course, but still with its fair share of formulaic problems. Studying that well has carried me all the way to the USA Physics Team, and now I can see memories of May 2014 reincarnate in reality. I have now been granted a chance to study the true fundamentals and the most wondrous consequences of physics, just as I had been granted such a chance for math. Now I wonder how far I’ll go.

Of course, I’ve only made it here with the assistance of many friends and mentors. I’d like to thank my quirky yet no-nonsense middle school math teacher Mrs. Blasberg, my mechanics teacher Mr. Burns, a balding and wise nerdy standup comedian, and my E & M teacher Dr. Tang, maximally efficient and interestingly informative. Finally, I need to thank my grandmother once more, along with my mother, for being the primary motivators for my careers in math and physics and for being supportive regardless of the situation.

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