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St. Gregory student wins international math award

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St. Gregory student wins international math award

  • Kylie Zhang accepting the Gold Prize in the Shing-Tung Yau High School Mathematics Awards in Beijing.
    St. Gregory College Preparatory SchoolKylie Zhang accepting the Gold Prize in the Shing-Tung Yau High School Mathematics Awards in Beijing.

Over 400 teams from around the world recently competed in a high school mathematics competition in Beijing, China. Among them was Kylie Yuanqi Zhang, an 18-year-old senior at St. Gregory College Preparatory School in Tucson. Although she was the sole member of her team, Zhang's project won the Gold Prize.

Zhang was awarded the top prize in the Shing-Tung Yau High School Mathematics Awards for developing a more economical and efficient three-dimensional printing method, known as 3D Surface Fabrication Using Conformal Geometry.

Over the past six months, Zhang and her adviser, Xianfeng David Gu — a professor at the State University of New York at Stony Brook and a former student of Shing-Tung Yau, who founded the competition — developed the process.

Zhang's method maps out a 3-D model of an object using a standard digital scanner, transfers the model to a plane, and preserves the angles of the model through a process called "conformal mapping." The model is then printed out into strips of color-coordinated paper, which are then cut and can be woven into the desired shape. 

Zhang believes her method has practical applications in everything from toy making to fashion manufacturing, and possibly even cancer treatment. Using her process, it would be possible to map out the brain and then measure the growth on a plane.

"When someone has a brain tumor, a spot in the brain goes wrong, measuring this growth on a sphere is difficult. It's much easier to do on a plane," Zhang said. 

The idea for the project came to Zhang while she was taking a summer course in multi-variable calculus at Harvard.

"I was walking down the street and saw a woven basket. I thought of the weaving process and wondered if that would be a more effective model for 3-D printing," Zhang said.  

"3-D printing is so expensive that it's really only available for professionals, I wanted to make it more accessible. Any printer can do it," Zhang said in an interview. 

When Zhang traveled to Beijing for her final presentation for the competition, she was able to print out her model using the printer in the hotel. 

After showing her ideas to Shing-Tung Yau, a winner of the prestigious Fields Medal for his mathematics work, Zhang was introduced to Xianfeng David Gu, who teaches computer science. Months later, she had developed the system with her mentor's help.

The Tucsonan competed against student teams from Europe, the United States, Taiwan, Singapore and mainland China in the competition. Zhang and her work were selected by a panel of 20 international mathematicians.

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3-d printing, china, math, st. gregory

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