Sixteen year old Shouryya Ray denies being a genius, but he’s being hailed in news reports for having come up with the solution to a problem that has baffled mathematicians ever since Sir Isaac Newton first posed it over 300 years ago.
The problem involved calculating the path of a projectile that is subject to both gravity and air resistance. Ray also solved a second problem, involving a body colliding with a wall, as part of a school project.
Ray says his chief motivation was curiosity. “When it was explained to us that the problems had no solutions, I thought to myself: well, there’s no harm in trying,” he explained.
Ray, who was born in Kolkata, India, moved to Germany four years ago when his engineer father got a job teaching at a technical college in Dresden. He says that he acquired his “hunger for mathematics” when he learned calculus from his father at the age of six — but now the son has outstripped the father’s ability to follow.
“He never discussed his project with me before it was finished and the mathematics he used are far beyond my reach,” Subhashis Ray admits.
Painting by Sir Godfrey Kneller [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons