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Two high school students solve 2000-year-old math equation that was once considered impossible

Calcea Johson and Ne'Kiya worked on finding a new way to prove the Pythagorean Theorem using Trignometry and they found success after months.

Two high school students solve 2000-year-old math equation that was once considered impossible
Cover Image Source: YouTube | 60 Minutes

Sometimes problems to the most complex problems are found in the most unexpected places, and often it's dedication coupled with a fresh approach that can make all the difference. Calcea Johnson and Ne'Kiya Jackson, who were seniors at St.Mary's Academy, participated in a challenge given by their math teacher in 2022, and are now being appreciated for coming up with a new way to prove the Pythagorean Theorem using Trigonometry, as per CBS News. The teachers weren't expecting anyone to pull off the task considered for 2000 years. Calcea and Ne'Kiya left everyone stunned when they were able to solve it after working on it for months. 



Once they submitted proof of their solution to the teachers, the duo were asked to present it at a mathematics conference before getting their work published. But the two are still working on it and have reportedly found five more methods to prove it. When the students started working on the contest, they only knew the equation, "A² + B² = C²." They spent almost all their free time trying to come up with ideas. Cal Johnson, Calcea's dad said that the garbage can was full of papers and that the moment a method wouldn't work, she would throw it into the bin.



However, their teachers were so happy with their work that they wanted them to present it at an American Mathematical conference in Atlanta in March 2023. "Well, our teacher approached us and was like, 'Hey, you might be able to actually present this,'" Ne'Kiya said. "I was like, 'Are you joking?' But she wasn't. So we went. I got up there. We presented and it went well, and it blew up." It was attended by math researchers from various American universities including Alabama, Georgia, Ohio State, and Oklahoma. So what did the two girls present at the conference? They said, "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 think that people were more appreciative at the conference because they are African American women, and also because they were young. Ne'Kiya is very clear that the duo wants their feat to be celebrated for what it is, "a great mathematical achievement." Pamela Rogers, St.Mary's president and interim principal said that despite being such a huge achievement, they received racist calls and comments. "People said 'they could not have done it. African Americans don't have the brains to do it.' Of course, we sheltered our girls from that," Rogers said. "But we absolutely did not expect it to come in the volume that it came."


These things didn't stop Ne'Kiya and Calcea from doing well in life. They both graduated last year and Ne'Kiya received a full rude in the pharmacy department at Xavier University in New Orleans and Calcea, who was the class valedictorian, is studying environmental engineering at Louisiana State University. Neither one of them is pursuing a career in Math, though Calcea might minor in it. "People might expect too much out of me if I become a mathematician," Ne'Kiya said.


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