For those of us who didn't take physics, Webster's defines symmetry as, "the property of a physical system that allows the system to remain unchanged by a specific physical or mathematical transformation, as rotation or translation."
The Dead Kennedys once defined Gov. Jerry Brown as having an aura that smiles and never frowns. So, the question is, would that aura qualify as symmetry, allowing the governor to remain unchanged when meeting some of the smartest high school students in California?
The question arose May 23, when 26 students from across California came to the steps of the state capitol as part of the Innovation Showcase, sponsored by Intel. The students were winners of the Intel Science Talent Search or the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair.
David Ding of Albany was one of the students. The 18-year-old, who spent the past two years attending Phillip's Academy in Andover, Mass., finished fourth in the competition, earning a scholarship of $40,000, which he will use to attend Harvard.
"Many symmetries characterize the world we live in," Ding said. "If you rotate an object like an apple, it doesn't change the fundamental characteristics of that object. My project studied what happens when you deform these symmetries. Many new structures appeared. These structures had something to do with particle physics. In particle physics, structures that result in different symmetries correspond to different
That is the kind of thinking being sought in the competition sponsored by technology company Intel.
"Intel believes that young people are the key to solving global challenges," said Shelly Esque, vice president of Intel's Corporate Affairs Group. "A solid math and science foundation coupled with skills such as critical thinking, collaboration and problem solving are crucial for their success."
Ding started his mathematics through a program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that pairs high school students with graduate MIT students.
Ding said he was excited to show his project to the governor. So, did the governor understand it?
"It's hard to say," Ding said. "I think he might have understood the basic concepts. It felt a bit strange in the beginning to be explaining the project to the governor. He was receptive. He put me at ease and he asked me some questions also. It was exciting. I didn't end up feeling too nervous."
Ding attended Albany High School for two years before shipping off to boarding school.
"It was a great two years," he said. "I had many friends from Albany. I participated on the Albany Science Bowl team. Kind of like a trivia or quiz competition with buzzers and so forth."
Ding also plays the piano and the violin. He's spending the summer at home before heading off to Harvard.
"I think I'm going to study math and physics," he said. "I'm not sure about my plans, but those are two subjects I'm interested in. I probably will study them and see where they take me."