Liam Castelli, Grade 12, first realised how much he loved math when things didn’t quite go to plan. “There was a competition in Grade 4,” he recalls. “Four ‘mathletes’ were to be chosen and I was so sure I’d be one of them I’d stopped trying. When I wasn’t picked, it was a wake-up call. I realised how much I enjoyed it and that I wanted to be good at it.”
Liam took the initiative and began spending hours in his bedroom learning calculus and trigonometry beyond what was being taught in school. By Grade 7 he was working on derivatives – something not usually covered until Grade 11.
“I thought I could ‘do’ calculus, but really I could just do one bit of it. I didn’t really understand it. Still, it gave me bragging rights with my friends.”
In fact, things didn’t get serious until his math teacher picked up on his progress. “At the end of Grade 7, Ms Reed said: ‘We can see you’ve been spending hours on this and you’re committed to it. You should push yourself’.”
The school worked with Liam to ensure he had the tools he needed to anchor his knowledge – “like explaining what the little triangle over the letters in an equation means,” he says – and that he was always challenged.
“What I love about math,” he explains, “is there’s always a right answer. And you can figure it out from things you already know. It’s almost stealing: using logic to solve a problem. It feels like a stroke of brilliance.
“Take quadratic equations. That formula looks like random variables but it can be applied to every single quadratic! It’s ridiculously cool and strangely intriguing.”
Liam also plays chess and runs cross country. “I like that you can measure your running progress in numbers,” he says. “Like going from 22 minutes for five km to 18.45 in three years.”
As well as his ambition to become an astrophysicist, Liam wants to learn differential equations, in homage to the stars of the TV show, The Big Bang Theory. “I too can be socially awkward,” he laughs.