## Two Teens Solve Pythagorean Puzzle

Calcea Johnson and Ne’Kiya Jackson were in high school when they came up with a new proof for the Pythagorean theorem.

Courtesy of AT&T

Calcea Johnson (center left) and Ne’Kiya Jackson (center right) were honored for their achievement at the 2023 Essence Festival.

Two high school students made headlines when they solved a math problem that’s stumped many mathematicians. Their feat even caught the attention of former NBA superstar Charles Barkley, who pledged a million dollars to the school the students attended.

In 2022, Calcea Johnson and Ne’Kiya Jackson were seniors at St. Mary’s Academy in New Orleans, Louisiana, when they entered a schoolwide math contest related to the Pythagorean theorem. The Pythagorean theorem says that the sum of the squared lengths of the two shorter sides of a right triangle is equal to the square of the length of the longer side. So if you know the lengths of two sides of a right triangle, you can use the theorem to figure out the length of the third side. Here’s how the equation is written:

^{2}+ b

^{2}= c

^{2}

A theorem is a rule that can be proven to be true, and the Pythagorean theorem has been proven a few hundred times, using algebra and geometry. The contest asked for a new way to prove the theorem. Another way to say this is that it asked for a new proof of the theorem.

For two months, Johnson and Jackson used nearly every spare minute to work on the problem. Johnson’s mom said the pair’s work took up 20 or 30 notebook pages as they tried, failed, and tried again. Their persistence paid off. Johnson and Jackson came up with a new proof, but they didn’t use algebra or geometry to do it. They used trigonometry, another kind of math. Very few others have been able to prove the Pythagorean theorem using trigonometry.

“There’s nothing like it—being able to do something that people don’t think that young people can do,” Johnson told New Orleans news station WWL-TV. “It’s usually, like, you have to be an adult to do this.”

Johnson and Jackson later presented their proof at a meeting of the American Mathematical Society. They were the only two high school students who presented.

Their remarkable achievement was widely reported. One of the people who heard about it was NBA player-turned-commentator Charles Barkley, who was impressed with both the young mathematicians and their school. In 2024, Barkley sent $100,000 to St. Mary’s. He’s promised to give another $900,000 to the school over the next 10 years.