How and Why I Became Interested in Mathematics

By Leo Li, The University of Melbourne

In a world where political discourse has reached a radical boiling point, the line between fact and opinion has often become blurred to the extent where the two can be difficult to distinguish. The truth can be tailored to one’s argument, as captured in US Counsellor Kellyanne Conway’s self-coined term, “alternative facts”.

Away from this chaos, many seek solace through the applied sciences, but even then, new discoveries, theories and models can disrupt their constructed framework and allow room for debate. However, one truth, or rather system of truths, that has persisted throughout history due to the intrinsically true nature of proof and deduction, is the amalgamation of science and art we refer to as mathematics. There is something divine in the way that although there is an infinite number of true facts, they simply lie waiting to be discovered. There is something noble in how no further progress can be made unless the rigour of previous assumption is ensured. And there is something beautiful in the shared human experience in the search for these truths.

Whether it be the mathematically pure analysis of abstract polygons, or the applied models for chemical polymeric chains that I have covered in my AMSI research project, mathematics opens doors to rooms that have a multitude of new doors, leading those passionate about learning down a rewarding rabbit hole. Visually, one can generate images that capture what equations, data and algorithms cannot (such as the polymer-modelling directed walk shown). These not only allow greater understanding of systems, but also can evoke an artistic response for the mathematics that in turn amplifies the appreciation for past and present work.

However, for me the key satisfaction for mathematics comes from the aforementioned truth, resulting in a singular moment of clarity when something new is found or a breakthrough is made in a long-perused proof. The divine, the scientific and the artistic use mathematics as a vehicle for human endeavour. I first found this in Olympiads in high-school where many such moments were had when lateral thinking was able to solve seemingly impossible questions in a mere elegant few lines. This baffling satisfaction developed into a passion for maths that I am sure will follow me throughout my life and come to tangible fruition in opportunities such as the AMSI Vacation Research Scholarships.


Leo Li was a recipient of a 2018/19 AMSI Vacation Research Scholarship.

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