Anirudh Prabhu changes boundaries

By Alyse Allred

What’s so special about the number 6? It’s far more than somebody’s lucky number . . . it’s a perfect number.

What exactly is a perfect number? By definition, it’s a positive integer that equals the sum of its divisors. The perfect number 6 has three divisors: 3, 2, and 1. When those three numbers are added together, they total 6. All the equations to calculate perfect numbers result in only even numbers.

This leads to one of the oldest mathematical questions: Do odd perfect numbers exist? For centuries, mathematicians have chipped away at this problem. Recently, though, a major piece was set in place by resident student Anirudh Prabhu.

Mr. Watson, who had Prabhu in one of his math classes, recalls that he had always shown an interest in math theory. Last year, however, Prabhu took this interest even further. “I googled unsolved problems in math,” he explained, “The [perfect odd number problem] was the only one I understood.”

By this time last year, Prabhu had successfully set a lower limit on the interval that could possibly contain an odd perfect number, which previously ranged from one to infinity. This proved to be a landmark, because it put a finite bound on a problem that otherwise had an infinite number of possibilities.

This success led to a series of others. Mrs. Gates, Prabhu’s former calculus teacher, stated that he arrived at her classroom on a Thursday, requesting her as his adult sponsor for the INTEL Science Fair. That Saturday, Prabhu won Purdue’s science fair, soon followed by the State Science Fair in Bloomington. He then attended the INTEL science fair in LA in May, where he secured third place on a national level.

During the summer, Prabhu’s research was accepted into the International Journal of Contemporary Mathematics, a professional journal devoted to math theory. Most recently, though, his research earned him a $10,000 Davidson Fellows Scholarship, a prestigious award for student work.

What is up next? Just recently, Prabhu was announced as a semifinalist in Siemens, another prestigious scholarship competition. This qualifies him to compete on the regional, which could potentially lead to another intense national competition.

“It’s rare for a high school student to contribute to ‘real mathematics’,” Mr. Watson commented, “[He] is a good student, but is distinguished by what he does outside of class.”

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