Math = Film Project

A screen grab shows a scene from the winning entry in the Math-O-Vision contest at Dartmouth College.

A screen grab shows a scene from the winning entry in the Math-O-Vision contest at Dartmouth College.

Hanover — Some kids see math as a maze of pointless numbers, a subject banished to chalkboards and ivory towers. Austin Eng, 17, of Freehold, N.J., sees it differently — and as a result, he and his film partner, Katherine Lin, also of Freehold, have $4,000 in prize money to show for it.

Last week, the high school film duo won Math-O-Vision, a first-year contest that encouraged students nationwide to create four-minute videos showing how the world of math surrounds us.

Sponsored by the Dartmouth College math department and the school’s Neukom Institute for Computational Sciences — which offers a range of programs and funding for undergraduate and graduate research, as well as curriculum development — Math-O-Vision was intended to increase public interest in mathematics, said Dan Rockmore, the institute’s director.

“At the beginning, almost every child likes math,” Rockmore said. “They don’t see it as a loaded concept. They see it as problem solving, counting, shapes, a puzzle. I want Math-O-Vision to generate a joyous interest in the subject again, and I suspect that next year, we’ll have more entries once people have examples from this year of what a math video is.”

Eng and Lin didn’t need an example to win the contest.

Their video, Integration of Math and Life, walks through an ordinary school day, overlaying equations for common activities that people don’t often stop to think about: the length of time it takes to get to school, the thousands of possible locker combinations, a basketball’s arc after it leaves someone’s hand and floats toward the hoop.

“I like concepts,” Eng said. “I think a lot of people don’t like math because they think it’s just a number, but it’s all around us. For us, the contest was a way to express practical applications creatively.”

At first, Eng said, he and Lin were looking for film contests online. They’d known each other since middle school and both viewed movie-making as a hobby.

When they found Math-O-Vision, they set their creative forces to work, sitting down together to plan camera shots and pinpointing mathematical formulas to use. Eng would act, Lin would work the tripod.

After shooting, they dumped their footage into Adobe Premium Pro and arranged the story line. Eng said he then used Adobe After Effects to create the equations, which look like someone scribbling frantically on a chalkboard.

Their precision and efficiency paid off. A judge wrote on the contest’s website that their video “did the best job of showing the pervasiveness of math in real life,” calling it “extremely professional and effective.”

Eng, whose primary interests are in science, mathematics, technology and film, said the project was the perfect combination of his academic pursuits. “I’ve always enjoyed the technological aspect of things, and I got into film when I was young.”

His cousin first introduced him to video making, he said. They would make stop-motion animation projects together for fun, then they graduated to video cameras and amateur movie-making.

Once Eng began to understand the technology behind video cameras, he started to build his own equipment, he said. He and Lin will probably invest the prize money in more expensive lenses for future projects.

Unfortunately, Eng said, Lin was busy last weekend and unable to discuss the project, but they both “view the scholarship as a plus.”

“It’s more about looking for contests and finding ways to express ourselves,” Eng said.

To Rockmore, who came up with the Math-O-Vision contest, that kind of attitude is one that he believes will restore interest in mathematics.

“There’s currently a bunch of people for whom math was confusing,” Rockmore said, “and that leaves bad taste for the subject over time.”

The idea of Math-O-Vision, Rockmore said, was to generate “a playful, more exploratory feeling” for math, “one that centers around eagerness.”

This year, Rockmore said, there were 45 entries from across the country. Students could work together or in teams. They had from late November until May 1 to provide a YouTube link to their video, and on May 8, 10 finalists were chosen. Last week, after counting the online votes and scrutinizing the mathematical value in each video, Rockmore and his team of judges selected the winner.

Rockmore said they also awarded $2,000 and $1,000 to the second- and third-place winners.

“But it’s beyond money,” the 51-year-old mathematician explained. “Mathematics is a lot about logical formulation. It seems scary to people, but it’s a discpline. It’s the same kind of idea that goes into crafting a legal argument, a thesis, a business proposition, a strategy on the sports field. It’s in all facets of life.”

View the winners’ videos here:

Zack Peterson can be reached at or 603-727-3211.


This article has been amended to correct an earlier error. The following correction appeared in the Wednesday, May 22 edition of the Valley News:

Dan Rockmore is the director of Dartmouth College's Neukom Institute for Computational Sciences. The institute's name was misspelled in a story in yesterday's Valley News.