| Careers | Contact Us | Search & Directories | Site Map | Campus Map
University of AlbertaExpressNews
Ideas > Feature

Robert Barrington Leigh with Dr. Andy Liu
Math prof helps protégé add up to success
By Phoebe Dey

At the ripe age of three, Robert Barrington Leigh looked at the ceiling lights in his family's home and realized he could count them much quicker if he multiplied them rather than counting each one.

"I knew there was some reasoning to it," said Barrington Leigh, now 14.

For the past three years, the Vernon Barford Junior High School student has been studying with U of A math professor Dr. Andy Liu, a 3M Teaching Fellow and 1998 Canadian Professor of the Year. Barrington Leigh started attending Liu's Saturday math club, but when Liu noticed the teen's skills were beyond the level of the club, he invited him to weekly private sessions on campus.

The hard work has paid off. Though still in Grade 9, Barrington Leigh recently learned he received an honorable mention at the 32nd Canadian Mathematical Olympiad, a prestigious contest in which only 67 students, most of them in high school, were invited to participate. He also placed first in Edmonton's annual Junior High Mathematical Contest. The wins add to a long list of accolades and trophies Barrington Leigh has collected since his first contest three years ago. 

Liu, who won't take any credit for his protégé's success, is not surprised with Barrington Leigh's progress. "Over my 20 years with my math club, I have had five outstanding students and I would definitely count him in the top five," said Liu, who learned to write upside down to make it easier to work with his students. "I've tried to show him different things and he picks what he wants to do. I just try to make it easier for him."

Barrington Leigh continues to achieve and astound people in the math world. He has had two papers published in international journals. The most recent, in The College Mathematics Journal, described a formula to minimize aroma loss in coffee shops.

"He's reading 400-level university material," said Liu. "And in those journals, the authors are usually professors. One of the papers was even translated into Hungarian."

Barrington Leigh admits he's often nervous during the contests, but that doesn't stop him from enjoying the work. "You do have to have some background in math to find it as fun as I do," said the soft-spoken, Grade 9 student, who has already completed the Grade-12 math requirements. 

"I like math proofs, which I find beautiful and interesting. I like striving to explain things that seem both simple and complicated, which you do from a simple set of rules."

Barrington Leigh knows math will always be in his future, but he doesn't think he will pursue a career in the field. His current dream is nanotechnology (manipulating molecular matter) or quantum physics.

While Liu would like to see Barrington Leigh at the U of A, he's not holding his breath.

"Time will tell if he comes here," said Liu. "But I don't expect all of my students to be mathematicians, or we'd all be out of jobs."

Maybe Barrington Leigh will figure out a formula so that doesn't happen.

Your response

Feature Archives

UofA > ExpressNews > Ideas > Feature
What's On
Media Links
President RD Fraser, PhD