There was a phrase that older generations occasionally used when I was a youngster to describe someone exceptionally sharp and talented, someone who was going places. I haven’t heard it used in decades, but when I read about Akilan Sankaran, that phrase came immediately to mind: “that guy can write his own ticket” – meaning he can have any job he wants, become anything he wants, the sky is the limit for him, because he’s that smart and able.
Akilan Sankaran is a fourteen-year-old middle school student from Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he attends Albuquerque Academy, a private college-prep school for grades 6-12. He’s a member of the school’s varsity track team and he plays piano, flute, and drums. Well, to say he plays piano is a bit of an understatement. Earlier this year he took 1st place in the 2021 Music Guild Jackie McGehee Young Artists Competition. Impressive, right? Wait, there’s more.
Just last month, Akilan was awarded first place (and $25,000) in the Broadcom MASTERS, a nationwide STEM competetion for middle school students. His entry in the contest was a computer program he designed and wrote that finds ‘highly composite numbers’, also known as anti-prime numbers. Now, a prime number is only divisible by 1 and itself. That’s all. An anti-prime number is divisible by 1, itself, and many other numbers. In fact, the more the better. Akilan’s program can find divisible numbers that have more than 1,000 digits. Along the way, he discovered a new class of mathematical functions to analyze the divisibility of the numbers his program finds.
In practical terms, Akilan’s algorithm can be used to speed up other programs in computers with multiple processors (CPUs). Many CPUs have multiple microprocessor on a single chip. To maximize the efficiency of a system with multiple processors, you want to evenly divide the number of simultaneously running programs between the available processors. Akilan’s program quickly finds the correct divisible number, thus speeding up the processing of other programs.
The sky is the limit for Akilan. Fittingly, he wants to become an astrophysicist. I expect he’ll write his own ticket.
“Akilan Sankaran, Winner of the Samueli Foundation Prize (Broadcom MASTERS 2021)” (1:42)
“Akilan Sankaran” (2:04)
“Akilan Sankaran – 1st Place, 2021 Music Guild Jackie McGehee Young Artists Competition” (14:54)
“Akilan Sankaran in Concert” (1:22:58)