PLEASANTON -- Eugene Chen is part of a group of students who operate a monthly online math competition for their peers.

But on Jan. 10, the 16-year-old Amador Valley High School student will be the one in the hot seat as he vies for the national title of the American Mathematical Society's 2013 "Who Wants to be a Mathematician?" contest.

The contest puts the top-scoring students 10 on a nationwide placement test in a series of difficult questions ranging from algebra to math history. The competition is held in an open forum in which attendees are encouraged to play or solve along, said Mike Breen, the society's spokesman.

"We like to have fun with it and show people math can be fun," he said.

Chen, who completed multivariable calculus as a sophomore and now is studying college-level differential equations, said although he has excelled in the subject that it's not necessarily a piece of cake.

"I think it comes easier to me than to some people, but there's definitely a lot of work involved," he said. "There are a lot of things you need to know."

As an eighth-grade student, Chen was part of a MATHCOUNTS team that won the state and eventually the national competition, an honor that included the opportunity to meet President Obama.

"He is the most phenomenal math student I have ever met," said Randy Lomas, a Harvest Park Middle School teacher who coached Chen's MATHCOUNTS team and submitted his perfect score on the upcoming competition's placement test. "He's very gifted, very intellectual and very driven -- and that is a very unusual combination."


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Chen also has participated twice in the United States of America Mathematical Olympiad -- an elite two-day, nine-hour test -- and was selected for the organization's invitation-only summer program. Along with a few fellow math enthusiasts, Chen founded the National Internet Math Olympiad, a free program designed to "stimulate mathematical insight among high school underclassmen across the nation."

Chen, who has been part of the team since 2009, helps devise and grade the series of questions administered in a timed format.

"I have a lot of fun writing problems because it's a lot different from solving problems, which I normally do during contests," he said.

As for the upcoming competition that will be held in San Diego during the society's Joint Mathematics Meetings with the Mathematical Association of America, Chen plans to study previous contests in order to put himself in a good position to win the top $5,000 prize.

If Chen should succeed, he would be the second valley resident to do so. Danville resident Evan O'Dorney, who won the Scripps National Spelling Bee in 2007, claimed the honor in 2010 and 2011.

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