Shouryya Ray, who moved to Germany from India with his family at the age of 12, has baffled scientists and mathematicians by solving two fundamental particle dynamics problems posed by Sir Isaac Newton over 350 years ago, Die Welt newspaper reported on Monday.
Ray’s solutions make it possible to now calculate not only the flight path of a ball, but also predict how it will hit and bounce off a wall. Previously it had only been possible to estimate this using a computer, wrote the paper.
Ray first came across the old problem when his secondary school, which specializes in science, set all their year-11 pupils a research project.
On a visit to the Technical University in Dresden pupils received raw data to evaluate a direct numerical simulation – which can be used to describe the trajectory of a ball when it is thrown.
When he realised the current method could not get an exact result, Ray decided to have a go at solving it. He puts the whole thing down to “schoolboy naivety” – he just refused to accept there was no answer to the problem.
“I asked myself: why can’t it work?” he told the paper.
Ray has been fascinated by what he calls the “intrinsic beauty“ of maths since an early age, according to the report. The boy was inspired by his engineer father who began setting him arithmetic problems at the age of six.
He recently won a youth science competition at the state level in Saxony and won second place in the Maths and IT section at the national final.
Originally from Calcutta, Ray couldn’t speak a word of German when he came to Dresden four years ago – but now he is fluent. Since then, he was moved up two classes in school and is currently sitting his Abitur exams two years early.
But Ray doesn’t think he’s a genius, and told the paper he has weak points as a mathematician, as well as in sports and social sciences.
Ray, whose recent breakthrough may have earned him a paragraph in the schoolbooks of the future, is currently deciding whether to study maths or physics at university.