The one thing that Fremd High School senior Arjun Puranik may struggle with is explaining his high-concept math work to his peers.
It could take "several weeks," Puranik said.
Puranik, a 17-year-old senior at Fremd in Palatine, is one of 10 finalists for a $100,000 scholarship via the Intel Science Search, an annual contest run by the Society for Science and the Public. The contest received 40 submissions, and this is the first time in a decade that a Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 student advanced to the finals.
"It's the one biggest thing that I've ever done," Puranik said.
Fremd Assistant Principal Eric Dolen compared Puranik's star student qualities to football star Peyton Manning. Puranik excels at Scholastic Bowl and the math team and even has time for the student newspaper and tennis team.
While he just tells his peers that he's merely working on a "math project," it's a little more in-depth. Puranik's project is entitled "Finite-dimensional Irreducible Representations of Rational Cherednik Algebras Associated to the Coxeter Group H3."
The stripped-down explanation is that Puranik researched representation theory, which converts more complex abstract algebra into less complicated linear algebra. That theory has been studied for years, and the research could help advance the field of quantum physics.
Puranik credits his mother with first teaching him math. Both his parents are engineers. He also talks about his projects with his older brother and said his family is proud of his achievements. Last week, Stanford University accepted him into its early admissions program, where he hopes to study math and computer science.
He spent six weeks on the project, logging 70 to 75 hours a week, Puranik said. Coffee helped sustain his concentration to the wee hours.
Even if he doesn't come away with the scholarship, Puranik said the experience was worth it.
"Honestly, it's all about the journey," he said.
Other projects submitted from candidates included a process to measure indoor air pollution from paraffin and soy candles, a measure of inequality between high school competing in national science competitions and creation of a better hearing-assistance device for cell phones and radios.
President Obama hosted the 2008 and 2009 winner Wednesday at the White House before the State of the Union Address, as they were seated with First Lady Michelle Obama. Results from this year's competition will be divulged on March 16, after finalists spend a week in Washington, D.C.
The contest is one of the most renowned in the country, started in 1942 to encourage high school students to pursue careers in science. Computer maker Intel began sponsoring the contest 12 years ago.