Gopal Goel: Homeschooled Math Whiz

Gopal Goel, 17, an Indian American homeschooled senior at Krishna Homeschool in Portland, Oregon, says: “I have the most wonderful parents who chose to homeschool me, and provided me with a world of opportunities for education and having a lot of fun.”

Gopal Goel is a finalist in this year’s Regeneron Science Talent Search, the nation’s oldest and most prestigious science competition for high school seniors. Founded and produced by Society for Science, the competition recognizes and empowers the most promising young scientists in the U.S. who are creating the ideas and solutions that will address our world’s most urgent challenges.

The 2021 finalists were selected from 1,760 highly qualified entrants based on their projects’ scientific rigor and their potential to become world-changing scientists and leaders. Each finalist is awarded at least $25,000, and the top ten awards range from $40,000 to $250,000.

Gopal’s project is in mathematics, and specifically in the area of probability. For his project, he made connections between two mathematical objects related to randomness and probability. He believes that his work may be useful to the fields of nuclear physics, quantum field theory and meteorology. He hopes that it will aid in the search for the true nature of quantum gravity, more commonly known as “the theory of everything.”

This isn’t Gopal’s first time participating in an academic competition. In 2020, a team led by Goel took 3rd place at the International Math Olympiad. He also represented the USA in the International Physics Olympiad in 2018 and won a gold medal.

Here is a full list of Gopal Goel’s accomplishments (from LinkedIn):

  • Silver Medal, International Mathematical Olympiad, 2020
  • Gold Medal, Cyberspace Mathematical Competition, 2020
  • Bronze Medal, Romanian Master of Mathematics, 2020
  • Gold Medal, International Physics Olympiad, 2018 (Lisbon, Portugal)
  • USAPhO Gold (2018, 2017)
  • USAPhO Silver (2016)
  • USAJMO Honorable Mention (2018, 2017)
  • MOP (2018 invitee)
  • MIT-PRIMES (2018, 2017)
  • Outstanding Poster Award – MAA Undergraduate Student Poster Session at Joint Mathematics Meetings (2018)
  • Intel ISEF Finals (2018 – 4th place in Math Category)
  • Canada/USA Mathcamp (2017, 2016)
  • Mathcounts Nationals Team Oregon (2017)
  • USAMTS (2015-2018)
  • National AP Scholar

“Homeschooling gave me the opportunity to explore the areas of study I loved, at my own pace and with freedom,” said Gopal. He wrote in his profile on the U.S. Physics Team website that his love for physics stemmed from his love for math.

By early middle school, Gopal Goel had already completed most of his high school math curriculum through AoPS. As he struggled to find other interesting areas to explore, his dad introduced him “to the amazing world of physics.”

Gopal said that he and his dad “started going through most of Halliday Resnick 2nd edition together, which was his [dad’s] favorite book as a student. I can very safely say that this book provided me with solid conceptual understanding.”

“I used to complement my study of physics with playing around with some equipment,” explained Gopal. “I remember making a simple pendulum with my old LEGO Technic pieces, and actually discovered that the time period remained the same for small angles, but changed as the angle increased.”

Gopal’s love for physics and math was nourished while attending talks by scientists and mathematicians, watching scientific videos, and visiting observatories and laboratories. These provided him with a lot of inspiration, showing him that there was more to explore in math and physics than just trying to ace a test or win a competition.

Gopal acknowledged, “I was extremely fortunate to be part of a math research program – PRIMES, which is conducted by the math department of MIT. It showed me the value of creativity, and how we can use all the tools at our disposal, with no time constraints, to solve really hard problems. It was very satisfying to sit down for several hours focusing on one problem. In one sense I could see the immense value in Olympiads preparation, where focusing on a hard problem for hours together was required.”

Gopal’s professors introduced him to some of the more esoteric areas of math and physics such as general relativity, quantum mechanics, combinatorics, hyperplanes, number theory, topology, and knot theory.

Gopal stated that his favorite mathematician of all time is Leonhard Euler. “He was probably the most prolific mathematician of all time. He’s contributed to almost every field in mathematics, and also many fields in physics and also engineering.”

The future plans of Goel are “to continue to do research in mathematics and theoretical physics, and advance the fundamentals of science that way, as math and physics are fundamental to most of science these days.”

Outside of his math research, Gopal Goel likes star gazing with his own homemade telescope. He is a fan of Star Wars, Tolkien, and Marvel. “I also enjoy music very much. I’ve been learning Indian classical music and playing the harmonium since I was about ten.”

Gopal is a member of Rose City Astronomers, Math Circle, Coding Club instructor, and Temple Youth Music Band. He also enjoys playing basketball recreationally and is a huge Portland Trailblazers fan. He speaks both English and Hindi.

Gopal Goel has one more special talent – solving a Rubik’s Cube! “I’ve been doing it since I was very little, but I’ve started taking it more seriously in the past couple of years. So right now I average about 20 seconds for a single solve. But besides just solving the Rubik’s Cube, I’ve also learned how to solve it blindfolded. So, what that means is that I look at it, memorize the cube, and then put on a blindfold and solve it. This is more fun because it’s more a challenge, but it’s also a lot harder and takes more time.”

Watch how he does it in this video:

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