About The Gazette Search Back Issues Contact Us    
The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University February 25, 2008 | Vol. 37 No. 23
Math Club Comes Up With Winning Formula For Its Skills

By Kristi Birch
Center for Talented Youth

Last spring, the Johns Hopkins Math Club decided to reinvent itself a little. Instead of being a purely academic club, it also wanted to do some community service. "We'd always done things like training for math competitions for undergraduates, but we hadn't done much outside the world of college," said senior Jeffrey Lin, treasurer of the club. "We were looking to branch out into other activities."

The members started contributing training problem sets to the Baltimore County Math League, and then Lin found a way for the math club to branch out more--virtually. One day he saw a link on the JHU home page to a story about, a Web site and online community for gifted middle and high school students interested in math and science. The site connects these students with peers from around the world who share a passion for the two fields, and with professionals already working in various disciplines.

Cogito, Latin for "I think," evokes Descartes' famous Cogito ergo sum, which means "I think, therefore I am." Developed by the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth, the site launched in December 2006 and currently has more than 3,000 registered members from more than 45 countries.

Lin contacted Linda Brody, director of CTY's Study of Exceptional Talent and the Cogito project, and asked her how the Math Club could get involved. She put him in touch with Karen Henoch- Ryugo, Cogito's online community coordinator. "And it took off from there," Lin said.

Cogito features interviews with experts, profiles of young scientists, science news, Web resources and searchable directories of summer programs, competitions and other academic opportunities. Most of the content is available to the public, but members have access to interactive features, including discussion forums.

The discussion forums are where the math club found its niche. Henoch-Ryugo set up a special forum for the club, and Kihyuk Hong, the group's president, came up with a name: Fibonacci's Forums, named for the Italian mathematician. Nearly every week, Hong, Lin and vice president Joe Tsao posted in Fibonacci's Forums new math problems for Cogito members to solve, and the solutions for the previous ones.

Lin was surprised at what occurred. "About five minutes after we posted them, the kids were posting answers. That was so surprising because the level of math was so hard, I couldn't do some of those problems," said Lin, a biomedical engineering major. All in all, they posted close to 30 problems, some of which they wrote themselves, and others that had come from math competitions. They also had a thread going called Name That Mathematician, with them posting clues about a famous math person and the members guessing who it was.

The success of Cogito depends on just this sort of participation by scientists and mathematicians — from college students to retired professionals — to serve as guest speakers, resident experts and site advisers.

The Johns Hopkins student involvement doesn't stop with the Math Club. This month, the JHU chapter of Engineers Without Borders will be interviewed online by members about their work in South Africa and Guatemala.

Moreover, many faculty members have participated in the site. Biostatistician Francesca Dominici from the School of Public Health was the very first Cogito online interview, and since then, nanoscientist Peter Searson, of the Whiting School; Louise Prockter, of APL; geobiologist Hope Jahren, of the Krieger School; bioethicist Debra Mathews, of the Berman Bioethics Institute; and stem cell researcher Doug Kerr, of the School of Medicine, have either been interviewed or have participated in a discussion forum. Andrew Feinberg, of the School of Medicine, is slated for an upcoming interview about the epigenetic basis of disease.

This year, the Math Club plans to expand its involvement even further — the members have begun organizing student participation beyond the math area of the site. They posted an announcement on an electronic bulletin board asking for volunteers for Cogito, and so far, they've recruited 30 to post two or three times a week in various areas of math and science. Already they are initiating discussions on finance and math, college life and combinatorial games. They also plan to start a book club where users can discuss books in all kinds of math and science fields.

"I've never seen a site like this before, where such talented kids can get together without being pressured by homework and just talk about academics — really talk," said Lin, a former CTY student who participated in summer programs. "It makes me look back and realize how much I would have liked having this kind of virtual community."

Anyone interested in contributing to or participating in should send an e-mail to To take a look at the site, go to


The Gazette | The Johns Hopkins University | Suite 540 | 901 S. Bond St. | Baltimore, MD 21231 | 443-287-9900 |