Indian youth, world’s fastest ‘human calculator,’ takes up mission to end math phobia

Neelkantha Bhanu Prakash. (Photo/YouTube)
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Updated 05 September 2020

Indian youth, world’s fastest ‘human calculator,’ takes up mission to end math phobia

  • Hyderabad-born Neelkantha Bhanu Prakash, 20, won the Mental Calculation World Championship during the Mind Sports Olympiad in August
  • His start-up, Exploring Infinity, seeks to redefine the objective of mathematical learning and eradicate math phobia globally

NEW DELHI: A 20-year-old mathematics graduate of the University of Delhi and world champion in mental calculation says he seeks to “eradicate math phobia,” as a recent international award gave him the fame needed to pursue the cause.

Neelkantha Bhanu Prakash, India’s Hyderabad-born mathematical phenomenon, defeated 30 candidates from various parts of the world and won the Mental Calculation World Championship during the Mind Sports Olympiad in the third week of August.

He calls himself a “mental sprinter” and compares his computing capabilities with sports skills.

“My life mission is to eradicate math phobia. I want to use the fame and the award I got to give back,” Prakash said. “People might not be interested in math, but there should not be any fear of it.”

The Mind Sports Olympiad is an annual multidisciplinary competition with numerous mind sports. Started in London in 1997, the event was held online this year due to travel restrictions in place to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

“The gold in the Mind Sports Olympiad brought me to the limelight, though I have been breaking the record for the last three years,” Prakash said.

He does not consider himself a genius or gifted. Instead, he affirms that practicing for a long time is what renders the whole process of calculation “natural.”

Prakash’s interest in calculation began when he was 5 years old, when an accident injured his brain.

BACKGROUND

Hyderabad-born Neelkantha Bhanu Prakash, 20, won the Mental Calculation World Championship during the Mind Sports Olympiad in August.

While recovering, he started doing mental calculation, which proved a life-changing experience.

“The accident put me in a direction that I would not have explored otherwise,” he told Arab News, adding that he has been lucky to have his middle-class family support his “unusual interest” and invest in his efforts.

Training the mind is important, he says, and he likens the exercise to physical activity. This activity, however, develops cognitive ability instead of muscles.

His life is not all about calculation, though. He loves watching TV, reading history books and traveling to explore new places.

Prakash is not happy with the way mathematics is taught in school and has set up Exploring Infinities, a venture that works with students and educators to, as he says, “redefine the objective of mathematical learning.”

He wants to make Exploring Infinities the biggest math start-up in the world, and he has already been invited to initiate conversations on mathematical education in several countries, including the UAE.

“My plan is to eradicate math phobia globally,” Prakash said. “That can only happen when we realize that the way math education is defined in school is problematic. Math has to be learned the way we learn a language. We learn language very creatively through stories and poetry, and then we proceed to grammar. But in math, we go to grammar first, and this creates a phobia.”

 


First UAE sighting of one of the world’s rarest birds in Abu Dhabi 

Updated 20 September 2020

First UAE sighting of one of the world’s rarest birds in Abu Dhabi 

  • Known as a Steppe Whimbrel, the bird is estimated to have a global population of only around 100
  • It is believed to have travelled in time for the autumn bird migration

DUBAI: One of the rarest birds in the world has been spotted in Abu Dhabi by two members of the Emirates Bird Records Committee (EBRC), according to state news agency WAM. 
Known as a Steppe Whimbrel, the bird - estimated to have a global population of only around 100 - was seen by Oscar Campbell and Simon Lloyd at the Saadiyat Beach Golf Course, WAM reported on Saturday.
Believed to have travelled in time for the autumn bird migration, the Steppe Whimbrel is an extremely rare sub-species of the widespread Whimbrel, which regularly passes through the Emirates in spring and autumn.
The Steppe Whimbrel seen in Abu Dhabi is believed to have been born this year, making it the first time a juvenile Steppe Whimbrel has been spotted anywhere in the world, according to WAM.
“On August 29, we were studying around 20 whimbrels on the Saadiyat Beach golf course. We were stunned when one flew off showing the distinctive white wings, clearly different from the other birds,” Campbell and Lloyd told WAM. 
“We immediately realized the potential significance of this so we concentrated on observing the bird and obtaining photographs, allowing us to check the key identification features,” they said.
Campbell and Lloyd then shared their photographs with world’s top expert on Steppe Whimbrels, Gary Allport, who confirmed their findings. 
“The discovery of a Steppe Whimbrel in Abu Dhabi is remarkable in itself, and confirms our suspicion that the migration route of the sub-species passes through the Arabian peninsula region,” Allport said. 
“What is even more remarkable is that this is the first time ever, anywhere in the world, that a juvenile Steppe Whimbrel has been seen in the field…It’s an amazing find,” he added. 
The Saadiyat Beach Golf Course management was delighted with the discovery. 
“When you look at the significance of sighting the Steppe Whimbrel in Abu Dhabi, its history and the subspecies actually being declared extinct in 1995, it is pretty amazing,” Clinton Southorn, Cluster Director of Agronomy for managers Troon Golf, told WAM.
“This is one of the reasons the Saadiyat Beach Golf Club has worked hard to achieve its Audubon certification and showcase the positive environmental impact the course can have on the environment,” he added.