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Math Awards and Competitions
While not in the news as much as T.V. shows like the American Idol singing competition and ESPN reported sporting events, there are many people that learn about and celebrate mathematicians with just as much excitement. Here are links to organizations that celebrate those who learn math. Several of these groups have competitions, pay for travel, and even award scholarships/cash prizes.
Math Competition-Middle School Level
• Begun in 1982 MATHCOUNTS is a math competition open to middle school students in the United States. There are several rounds, first local chapter events, then state level events and finally the national event. The program was founded by a group of organizations: the National Society of Professional Engineers, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and the CNA Foundation as a "competitive environment to increase middle school student's interest in mathematics."
Math Competition-High School Level
• Begun in 1950 The American Mathematics Competitions are a series of voluntary exams in high school mathematics. The progressive exams are: American Mathematics Contest 8 (AMC 8), American Mathematics Contest 10 (AMC 10), American Mathematics Contest 12 (AMC 12), American Invitational Mathematics Examination (AIME), and the United States of America Mathematical Olympiad (USAMO).
The American Mathematics Contest 8 (for 8th graders and below) has 25 multiple-choice questions and is to be taken in 40 minutes. The American Mathematics Contest 10 (10th graders and below) and AMC12 (12th graders and below) each have 25 questions, and are to be completed in 75 minutes.
The American Invitational Mathematics Examination (AIME) is a 15-question 3-hour test open to those who rank in the top 5% on the AMC12 and those who rank in the top 1% on the AMC10.
The United Stated of America Mathematical Olympiad (USAMO) is a six-question, nine-hour mathematical proof examination spread out over two days. It is open to the top 250 students based on scores of the AIME and AMC12/AMC10.
The Mathematical Olympiad Summer program is open to the top 12 students based on the USAMO exam.
The team to represent the United States at the International Math Olympiad is open to the top 6 students based on the Math Olympiad Summer Program.
• Begun in 1959 the International Mathematical Olympiad for high school students is an annual event first held in Romania. About 90 countries send teams of up to six students to the event. In the yearly years the event was behind the Soviet Union's Iron Curtain, the United States began sending students to the competition in 1974.
Steve Olson wrote a book called Count Down (Six Kids Vie for Glory at the World's Toughest Math Competition), about the U.S. students participating in the 2001 IMO held at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.
George Paul Csicsery made a movie shown on PBS called Hard Problems (The Road to the World's Toughest Math Contest), about the students preparing for the 2006 IMO held in Ljubljana, Slovenia.
Math Competition-College Level
• Begun in 1938 the William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition is an annual event open to undergrad students of the United States and Canada. It is administered by the Mathematical Association of America. The top 25 students receive a cash award in the range of US250-$2,500. The top five are named Putnam Fellows and one of the top five students is also eligible for a scholarship and paid tuition for graduate studies at Harvard University.
• Begun in 1994 the International Math Competition for University Students is an annual event organized by the University College London and hosted in various countries. It is open to undergrad students.
International Math Awards
• Begun in 1901 the most famous international non-athletic award is the Nobel Prize named for and funded by the estate of the Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel. While math is certainly a vital component used in research and discovery it isn't a category by itself. Nobel Laureates are recognized for achievements in five categories: physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature and for peace. The annual recognition is with a ceremony, medal awarded, and a cash prize currently in the range of US$1.4 million.
• Begun in 1936 the Fields Medal is viewed as the Nobel equivalent in Mathematics. It is named after the Canadian mathematician J. C. Fields and is awarded "to recognize outstanding mathematical achievement for existing work and for the promise of future achievement". Up to four awards are given out at the International Congress of Mathematicians held once every four years. The award is restricted to recipients under 40 years old. The cash award is in the range of US$15,000.
• Begun in 1978 the Wolf Prize in Mathematics is an annual award named for Dr. Ricardo Subirana y Lobo Wolf and his wife Francisca. The aim of the project is to "To award prizes to outstanding scientists and artists-irrespective of nationality, race, color, religion, sex or political view". The cash award is in the range of US$100,000.
• Begun in 2003 the Abel Prize is an annual award named for the Norwegian mathematician Niels Henrik Abel. It is to "award an international prize for outstanding scientific work in the field of mathematics" and carries a cash prize of about US$900,000.
The short list above is a reference to the most well known, most prestigious, highest cash prize competitions. The world is a big place; here are two listing of over 200 math competitions: The Art of Problem Solving web site and The Official American Regions Mathematics League web site. There is a mini olympiad held in the San Francisco area each year called the Bay Area Mathematical Olympiad (BAMO). Students have lots of resources available to learn math in a fun way.