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The students travelling the world for maths competitions

Cloris and Iris Xu love travelling to maths competitions and making new friends in the process 

Cloris and Iris Xu are gold medallists in maths, and, just like regular Olympians, they travel to cities around the world to compete with the best of the best!

The Year 12 Baulkham Hills High twins have represented Australia at the European Girls’ Mathematical Olympiad, competing with girls from more than 50 other nations. In 2024, the Australian team ranked second out of 54 countries, with both Cloris and Iris receiving gold medals.

Iris Xu – Problem solver

What do you like about maths?

I guess I would categorise myself as a problem solver. I like to solve problems, not just maths problems, but also problems in real life.

At quite a young age I was really keen on just making the world a better place, and I think every problem in the world that we have right now can be somehow solved with maths. Even if the way of solving it is not clear, I think maths is the way to get close to the problem.

What’s it like competing internationally?

It’s definitely a really stressful experience! But also very rewarding. You face so many people that are actually complete strangers to you; many of them don’t even speak the same language. But while it’s scary in one sense, it’s also really exciting to be able to travel around the world and meet people my age who I share so much in common with because they also have the same interest in maths.

The maths competitions are also the best thing to calm myself when I’m stressfully preparing for my exams!

What do you want to do when you finish school?

I definitely want to make use of my maths knowledge to make the world better.  I don’t know the specific field I will be in, but I definitely see myself doing research in maths.

I’ve been learning about topology and how it relates to health. People are always talking about human wellbeing but it’s such a grand term. For me, human wellbeing is a state where everyone is feeling physically and also mentally well, so I’m really intrigued by studying that with maths.

What do you do for fun outside of maths?

I like painting and drawing in my free time as it helps me to relax. I also like reading historical works and classic literature because the topics they discuss are so timeless and can be related to solving problems right now.

Cloris Xu – World explorer

What do you like about maths?

I started out just having fun with maths, but when I discovered the fact that a lot of the fields in the world utilise maths, I realised it’s kind of limitless. I saw the deep and rigorous thought process it involves and that it’s very helpful in a lot of processes, like science research.

What’s it like competing internationally?

By communicating with more people that are also doing maths it kind of helps you to stay curious because all of the people have different perspectives on maths. I also like the international travel and meeting new people. When you’re communicating with such a wide range of people, it is pretty hard to actually lose interest in maths!

What do you want to do when you finish school?

I’ve always thought about doing work in environment preservation. I know I want to do something that involves working with people from other fields, probably biology, like monitoring wildlife or working out how we use resources in different environments. I’ve also been considering the advancement of human development in space and something related to how we utilise resources from other planets.

What do you do for fun outside of maths?

I’m quite different from Iris as a person outside of maths! One of my biggest hobbies is writing, and I’m also pretty fascinated by the connection between art and science. They’re both very deep fields that are run by people with a passion for ways to explore the world. 

Get your maths game on

If Cloris and Iris have inspired you to get involved in maths competitions, there are plenty to consider! Ask your teacher or check out the list on the Australian Maths Trust website.

Australian Maths Trust CEO Nathan Ford says the European Girls’ Mathematical Olympiad program has been growing every year. 

“Research shows the value and importance of diversity in problem solving. At the Trust, we are continuing to develop and explore opportunities to help young women develop their skills in maths and algorithmics. This is because women have a critical role to play in finding solutions to the challenges facing us as a society and in an increasing innovative and technologically driven economy.”

Inspired? Here are some maths comps to check out.

A version of this article first appeared in Careers with STEM: Maths + Data 2024.

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