A Montgomery Blair High School student and five U.S. teammates achieved an unprecedented perfect team score to win the top prize at a prestigious international math competition in Hong Kong this week.
The high school students completed a two-day, nine-hour exam by displaying a wealth of theoretical genius in their answers to six essay questions, team officials said.
Each team member scored a perfect 42 points -- a feat that astounded people involved with the program -- and earned a gold medal and the respect of participants from 69 countries at the 35th International Mathematical Olympiad, said Walter Mientka, the team leader.
Jacob Lurie, 16, of Bethesda, was the youngest member of the all-male squad, which included two students from New York, two from Massachusetts and one from Illinois.
"The next step is for the trainers to continue to challenge the students and provide an atmosphere where the students will realize there's still something to learn," said Mientka, a professor from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Jacob is a junior in Blair's math, science and computer science magnet program and one of many Montgomery County students who have competed in the U.S.A. Mathematical Olympiad in recent years. But he is only the second Blair student to survive the grueling testing process and reach the international olympiad.
Jacob was staying in a hostel outside Hong Kong and couldn't be reached for comment. But his mother and teachers said the self-motivated vegetarian likely would offer one-word answers or silent shrugs during an interview.
Jacob isn't a typical teenager. He plays piano, always has Bach booming through his headphones and decided to cut meat out of his diet when he was in the first grade, said his mother, Nora Bailey Lurie.
Friends, family and teachers said that the modest, shy theorist-to-be is always up to something "mathly."
He's the only student that his physics teacher would ever grab by the shoulders, look dead in the eye and say, "You're a genius," said Jacob's math teacher, Eric Walstein.
Walstein, who has taught Jacob for two years, said a mind like Jacob's would be useful in plugging holes in human understanding of the origins of the universe such as the Big Bang Theory.
Walstein instructed Jacob's eight-student class in Complex Analysis, which he teaches juniors at the University of Maryland.
Jacob, the older of two boys and the son of two lawyers, was not a child whose mother shoved math flashcards in his face as an infant.
"We're fortunate to be able to provide him with the technical books and the mentors that he asks for," his mother said.
The olympiad typically is dominated by 16- and 17-year-olds from China and Russia, which placed second and third, respectively, this year. The competition attracts U.S. students who do such things as breeze through Scholastic Achievement Tests before they've even gone to high school. They have a thirst for the creative challenge of mathematical theory.
Four members of the team are looking forward to college this fall -- two to Harvard University and one each to Cornell and Duke universities.
To get a crack at the olympiad, the U.S. team members survived three levels of tests starting in February, outsmarting approximately 350,000 students. The second round consisted of 20,000 test takers this year, and the third reduced the list from 146 to six team members and two alternates.
The team then spent four weeks training at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis.
Mientka was effusive in his praise for the team's youngest member.
"Jacob had a solution to one problem that was really astonishing," the professor said. "Where he came up with that function was amazing."
Here is a question that appeared on the 35th IMO test:
Show that there exists a set A of positive integers with the following property: For any infinite set S of primes there exist two positive integers m in A and n not in A each of which is a product of k distinct elements of S for some k greater than 1.