Even though Patrick Lopatto, son of Professor of Psychology David Lopatto, is already well known in Grinnell College’s Math department, he is just a senior at Grinnell High School, set to graduate in May.
Lopatto has applied to a variety of colleges, including Grinnell, but hasn’t heard back from any of them yet. Although he isn’t sure about where he will find himself next year, he does know that he wants to pursue a degree in math.
“I want to go to a four year university and study math,” he said, “I just don’t know where yet. I’ll get my letters in two or three weeks.”
Here at the College, Lopatto has taken Calculus I, Calculus II, Linear Algebra, Differential Equations, the Putnam Problem-Solving seminar and Foundations of Abstract Algebra. Currently, he’s taking Field Theory and Foundations of Analysis, which are both 300-level courses.
“Yes, I am one class away from finishing the math major as a high school senior,” Lopatto confirmed.
Lopatto said he began taking math classes at the College as a sophomore in high school, when he ran out of classes to take at his high school.
“It just seemed like the next thing to do,” he said.
He enrolled in the Advanced Scholars’ Program the College offers to local high school students, and quickly progressed through the classes. It is not abnormal for high school students take Calculus I or II at the College, but they rarely take higher-level math courses.
Among Lopatto’s accomplishments at Grinnell College is a published paper that he co-authored with Professor of Mathematics Marc Chamberland this year, after spending the summer researching the topic. Though Professor Chamberland was away for the summer, he and Lopatto outlined the work to be done, looked up references, and made a conjecture.
“Then he [Lopatto] dug into some of the nasty algebra stuff,” Chamberland said. “It was basically just trying to bang out and algebraically manipulate stuff around and get things in order, which is the nasty part of the paper.”
The topic arose from research that Professor Chamberland had come across done by a Canadian mathematician named Simon Plouffe who made conjectures about odd powers of pi and the Riemann Zeta Function. He wanted to further look into the subject and thought it might be something a student could do.
“I thought it might be a project that Patrick might find interesting, so I showed it to him, and he [did think] it looked interesting, so we started working on it together,” Chamberland said.
The duo was able to take Plouffe’s conjectures and pair them with research done by an Indian mathematician named Ramanujan to create an expanded formula for all odd powers of pi. Plouffe had used a computer to come up with his conjectures, so Lopatto and Professor Chamberland used the program Maple to refine, double check, and typeset their formula.
“We were able to replicate what he saw and push it a little further,” Chamberland said.
Lopatto said that he has had a great experience with the Math Department here at Grinnell and that if he is accepted to the College, he will definitely consider attending.
“I definitely would [consider it], it’s exceptionally cheap since my dad is a professor here, and there’s the tuition remission, so that makes it exceptionally attractive,” he said.
Besides the math competitions he has participated in with other Grinnell students, Lopatto also plays the trumpet in the orchestra on campus and plans to continue to pursue music in college.
“You know, there are other departments besides math,” he joked.