Fifty-Five

Way back in post Thirty-Four, I talked about the Fibonacci sequence of numbers, the series that begins:

1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, …

After the first two 1’s, the rest of the series is determined by simply adding the previous two numbers in the series. It goes on forever. Well, today’s number is another Fibonacci number, 55, so I thought I’d continue to talk about it here.

When I was in ninth grade, I attended a competition sponsored by the Pennsylvania Junior Academy of Science. A lot of the kids in my class participated in it as well. Students in grades 7-12 conducted some sort of research in a scientific field, and presented it at a regional competition before a panel of judges. One of the interesting things about this competition is that you are not actually competing against other students. Instead, your research and presentation are judged based on their own merit, presumably against some rubric that I certainly couldn’t describe. You could receive one of three awards: first, second, or third. If you won a first award, it meant you were then eligible to attend the statewide competition.

Well, after two years of seeing a lot of my classmates attend, I decided I’d finally give it a shot. I decided (of course) to create a presentation in the field of mathematics, and I thought it would be fun to do something with the Fibonacci sequence. I don’t recall the details of my presentation at all, but I imagine it was something similar to the overview I gave in my Thirty-Four post. I imagine I spoke about how to construct the sequence; about the Golden Ratio that is an intimate part of the sequence; about the ways in which the sequence appears in nature. I’m sure I used graphs like this:

Like I said, I really don’t remember how my presentation went. I remember only three things: I remember that I used an overhead projector. And I remember that I was in a college classroom, judged by four people. And I vividely remember one of the questions the judges asked me. She asked me this:

Could you tell me what a ratio is?

Seriously? I felt like I’d been really grown-up and academic about this presentation. I knew I wasn’t exactly breaking new ground, or discovering new insights into the Fibonacci series, but I thought I’d done a pretty good job of presenting one of the fun sides of mathematics. And they asked me to define “ratio”? Well, the really sad thing is this: I flubbed the answer. I was so taken aback by the question that I think my answer was rather dodgy. Something like, “Umm, if you have two numbers and then the difference between them is the ratio.” The judges seemed less than impressed by me, which honestly was not an experience I was used to. My reputation as “whiz kid” usually preceded me wherever I went. Apparently not here.

And I got a second award, not a first. Very disappointing. (And of course, being who I was, I sulked the rest of the day, miserable and depressed.) More Fibonacci stuff in Post 89, maybe?