Shouryya Ray, a 16-year-old German student, has cracked a puzzle that has stumped mathematicians since Sir Isaac Newton first posed the problem more than 350 years ago.
Ray has won a research award and has been hailed as a genius for working out two fundamental particle dynamics equations that physicists have previously only been able to approximate by using computers with partial solutions. The teen's solutions allow exact calculations of a trajectory under gravity and subject to air resistance. In other words, an item's flight path can be calculated and predictions can be made about how the object will hit and bounce off a barrier. The two questions were first posed in the 17th and 19th centuries.
UPDATE: A later memo by Jürgen Voigt, a math professor at Technische Universität Dresden, contends that while Ray's methods are "exceptional and remarkable for a high school student," the teen did not actually provide a solution to a 350-year-old riddle -- because Newton never "posed a problem." Ray's solutions were also not endorsed by mathematical experts, though there were not necessarily problems associated with his analysis.
The teen first came across the problem on a visit to the Technical University in Dresden, when students received raw data to evaluate the trajectory of a thrown ball -- but current methods could not yield an exact result, according to The Local.
So Ray set about searching for a precise solution, attributing his accomplishments to "curiosity and schoolboy naivete," in refusing to believe that the problem was unsolvable, according to The Sunday Times.
"I asked myself, 'Why can't it work?'" Ray told the German Die Welt newspaper.
For years, Ray has enjoyed what he says is an "intrinsic beauty" of math. He moved from Calcutta, India, to Dresden, Germany, four years ago without knowledge of the German language, in which he is now fluent. He is preparing to take his secondary school exams two years ahead of his peers.
Ray began solving complicated problems when he was just 6 years old, but modestly denies that he's a genius, noting that he wishes he were better at certain things in school -- like sports. He is now deciding whether to study math or physics in college.