Two teens say they’ve historically solved Pythagoras’ famous theorem by using trigonometry.
New Orleans natives Calcea Johnson and Ne’Kiya Jackson, who attend St. Mary’s Academy, presented their findings in Georgia for the American Mathematical Society’s semi-annual southeastern chapter meeting.
According to the Guardian, the two students were the only high schoolers in attendance, alongside math researchers from the universities of Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana State, Ohio State, Oklahoma, and Texas Tech. Johnson and Jackson spoke on discovering new results in the understanding of the Pythagorean theorem. The equation is nearly 2,000 years old and says, per the newspaper, that the “sum of the squares of a right triangle’s two shorter sides equals the square of the hypotenuse.”
The brief written abstract for Johnson and Jackson’s presentation reads in full: “In the 2000 years since trigonometry was discovered it’s always been assumed that any alleged proof of Pythagoras’s Theorem based on trigonometry must be circular. In fact, in the book containing the largest known collection of proofs (The Pythagorean Proposition by Elisha Loomis) the author flatly states that ‘There are no trigonometric proofs, because all the fundamental formulae of trigonometry are themselves based upon the truth of the Pythagorean Theorem.’ But that isn’t quite true: in our lecture we present a new proof of Pythagoras’s Theorem which is based on a fundamental result in trigonometry—the Law of Sines—and we show that the proof is independent of the Pythagorean trig identity \sin^2x + \cos^2x = 1.”
Calcea and Ne’Kiya spoke to a local news station about their breakthrough. “There’s nothing like it—being able to do something that people don’t think that young people can do,” Johnson said. “You don’t see kids like us doing this—it’s usually, like, you have to be an adult to do this.”
Johnson and Jackson credited the hard-working educators who led them here, emphasizing that they “have really great teachers.”
For their hard work and discovery in mathematics, the two were encouraged by high-ranked U.S. mathematical research organizations to submit their work to a peer-reviewed journal. Michelle Obama also celebrated them on Twitter, writing, “I just love this story about two high school students, Calcea Johnson and Ne’Kiya Jackson, who are on the cusp of an incredible mathematical discovery. Way to go, Ne’Kiya and Calcea! I’m rooting for you and can’t wait to see what you all do next."