Tops in math — and spelling

Evan O’Dorney, winner of the Intel Talent Search’s $100,000 top prize, previously won the National Spelling Bee and a gold medal at an international math Olympiad, reports the San Jose Mercury News. O’Dorney, 17, is home-schooled by his mother in Danville, California. Dad is a BART train driver.

“I’m excited and shocked,” Evan said after his win Tuesday. “This has been exciting, especially the judging interviews. All the science questions and working with scientists who are in very different fields than me, I’m very grateful.”

For the Intel contest, he solved a problem involving square roots —  “Continued Fraction Convergents and Linear Fractional Transformations” — in general terms.

In a layperson’s summary, O’Dorney wrote: “In this project, I have discovered and proved an unexpectedly simple formula that allows one to predict, given a particular square root, whether the two methods yield infinitely many results in common.”

A black belt in tae kwon do, O’Dorney studies piano performance and composition at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. He’s written a musical representation of the number pi, an opera and a piano concerto. He will head to Harvard in the fall with plans to become a math professor.

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  1. I’m sure Evan O’Dorney would be the first to remind readers that one exceptional result does not prove the rule.

  2. Mark Roulo says:


    Is the “one exceptional result” you are referencing the fact that he is homeschooled, or the fact that he won the Intel Talent Search top prize?

  3. Well, I don’t think it’s that exceptional that a kid who won the spelling bee and the math olympiad would also win Intel— seems par for the course, especially since his project was on math! 🙂

    And when I saw that he was homeschooled, my first thought was “Ah… they probably homeschooled him BECAUSE he was a super-genius.”

    I mean, a normal public school wouldn’t know what to make of a kid like this! 🙂

  4. CarolineSF says:

    Many, if not most, of these supergenius kids (and adults) are on the Asperger’s end of the autism spectrum. Obviously I can’t diagnose — but to be clear, I’m speaking of that respectfully, as I have Aspergian family members.

    The first profile in the Chronicle emphasized that the boy hasn’t learned to drive — difficulty driving is a common (though not universal) Aspie characteristic.

    So, it may be more complicated than you think when you say that a normal public school wouldn’t know what to make of a kid like this.

    You’ll notice if you read news reports on national spelling bee winners and similar competitions that the kids were often homeschooled. The same correlation is likely.

  5. O’Dorney says his parents decided he wouldn’t be a good fit at school because of his very high IQ. I think he does have Asperger’s Syndrome as well.

  6. Doesn’t surprise me at all that he was home schooled. I think it is a great option for a lot of people. Parental interest in student education is vital.

  7. Cardinal Fang says:

    A hat trick of academic achievement! He didn’t just get a gold medal in the International Math Olympiad- he placed second. Second in the world. The kid is amazing.

  8. Evan is part of our homeschool support group and while I don’t know him all that well as he is quite a bit older than my children, he seems like a nice kid. He might have mild Asperger’s (not sure about that) but not any more so than the typical Silicon Valley engineering type so common here.

  9. Actually, in terms of the not learning to drive– I didn’t get my license until the week before I left for college— I could walk to work, my friends all had cars, and I just didn’t see the point–I could get downtown via bus and train. Why bother with the hassle of driving?

    In fact, there are kids in NYC who NEVER learn to drive….

  10. andrei radulescu-banu says:

    I find it interesting that you’d all automatically assume that the kid must have Asperger, if he is doing so well with his math competitions and on the spelling bee. He could very well be a perfectly normal kid who just liked math more than others, or who had better math teachers.

    Back in my school years, I also had met a few super-achiever kids, gold prize medalists at the Math International Olympiad and at the Physics International Olympiad. These were very smart kids, way ahead of others in their class. But the percentage among them with personality or mental problems was not higher than what you’d find in the general population. What was common, though, was that all these kids were coming from schools with expert teachers in math, physics, chemistry etc and a larger proportion than usual had mathematician or physicist parents.

  11. CarolineSF says:

    I didn’t “automatically assume” that the kid must have Asperger’s (and I’m the one who brought it up). I read the articles with interest, and I know that people with the abilities Evan has are often somewhere on the spectrum.

    Asperger’s is not a personality problem or a mental problem! It’s true that people with Asperger’s aren’t usually characterized as “normal,” but they might be offended to be characterized as “normal.” Obviously Evan is not “normal,” whether or not he fits the Asperger’s profile

    Deirdre, Evan lives in Danville, where it’s downright unheard-of not to learn to drive on schedule. It’s so unusual that the Chronicle’s first feature on him included that fact in the lead and referred back to it a few times. There was some discussion about whether that was appropriate if it possibly correlated with Asperger’s, and you’ll notice that yesterday’s Chronicle article didn’t mention it at all.