Luke Robitaille isn’t daunted by difficult math problems. In fact, he often asks his mother to write long-division equations so that he cam solve them.
On Monday, Luke, 13, took first place in the Raytheon Mathcounts competition — also known as the national math bee — in Orlando, Fla. He had finished second last year.
The final question: “In a barn, 100 chicks sit peacefully in a circle. Suddenly, each chick randomly pecks the chick immediately to its left or right. What is the expected number of unpecked chicks?”
He gave the correct answer, 25, solving the problem in 0.9 second.
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“I was surprised that I won,” he said. “I kind of figured that was the wrong answer.”
Luke said he competed on the local and state levels before advancing to the national competition against 224 middle school students from the United States, U.S. territories and schools serving employees of the U.S. state and defense departments.
Luke will receive a $20,000 college scholarship and a free trip to U.S. Space Camp for winning the competition.
On Wednesday morning Luke and his parents, Mary and Rob Robitaille, flew to New York, where he will be a guest on Friday’s “Live with Kelly and Ryan” show.
Besides being interviewed, Luke said he expects a math challenge from show hosts Kelly Ripa and Ryan Seacrest.
Luke’s parents said they decided to home-school him when they saw that traditional school probably wouldn’t be a good fit.
Mary Robitaille said she quit her job as a writing tutor to help home-school her son.
“We try to meet his needs,” she said. “We wish that we spoke the language of math, but he has to talk to other people. We try to understand, but he is beyond us.”
Luke started auditing college classes when he was 8. A doctoral student at the University of Texas at Arlington introduced him to math journals.
When his parents asked him what he wanted to do while on a family vacation, Luke said he wanted to visit a math library, so they took him to the one at the University of Texas at Austin.
Rob Robitaille said he is in awe of his son.
“I feel like I can do something great with my life. I feel inspired by Luke and his accomplishments,” he said.