Written: Feb. 17, 2006.

*Dedicated to Noga Alon, on his 50th Birthday*

I can't believe that the
* י ל ד פ ל א*
(wunderkind) of Israeli combinatorics, and more generally,
Israeli mathematics, and more generally, Israeli science,
is turning 50 today. Unlike the stereotypical aging "wonder-child"
for whom the wonder has passed but he or she remained a "child",
Noga's wonder is still as strong as ever, and luckily for us,
he remained a "child" in the best sense of the word:
still full of curiosity and in spite of his world-class eminence,
as unpretentious and down-to-earth as ever.

But while Noga is definitely an outstanding 50-year-old Israeli combinatorialist, he is not the only one! If you interpret combinatorics to include computer science and physics, then a very partial list of ca. 50-year-old great combinatorialists include

- Noga Alon (of course!), Plenary Speaker at ICM 2002, youngest member ever of the Israel Academy of Science
- Amir Ban, of Deep Junior fame
- Doron Gepner, of Conformal Field Theory and Mirror Symmetry fame
- Gil Kalai, the Convex revolutionary
- Nati Seiberg, of Seiberg-Witten fame, permanent member of the Institute for Advanced Study
- Avi Wigderson, the 1994 Nevallina Prize winner, Plenary Speaker at ICM 2006, also permanent member of the Institute for Advanced Study

The enigma of explaining this "concentration of measure" was solved the other day, as I was cleaning up my attic.

I found some old issues of "gilyonot lematematika", a mathematical quarterly for "the learning youth and amateurs" edited by the late Joseph Gillis, from the years 1970-1977. In addition to fascinating articles, mostly written by Gillis, but also by teenage readers (and in one case [Ron Donagi] by a pre-teen) it had a large problem section. Each problem was assigned a number of points (according to difficulty), and readers were invited to send-in solutions. There were no prizes offered, the only reward was being listed in the "List of Solvers" in the next issue. In 1969, Joe Gillis also started to organize the Israeli Math Olympiad.

All the people I mentioned above either won some prizes in the Math Olympiad or were high scorers in the problem section. Often both!

For example, our Birthday boy, Noga Alon was ranked first in the 1974 Olympiad, and fourth in 1973 (Amir Ban, Deep Junior's co-coach was top then, and Doron Gepner ranked second). The list of solvers of v.5 no. 2 (that appeared in v.5 no. 3) had 35 names, including

- Noga Alon (11th grade): (28 pts.)
- Avi Wigderson (11th grade): (17 pts.)
- Ofer Zeitouni (8th grade): (5 pts.)
- Roy Meshulam (9th grade): (19 pts.)

The list of solvers of v.5 no. 3 (that appeared in v.5 no. 4) also had 35 names, including

- Noga Alon (12th grade): (36 pts.) [the top scorer!]
- Avi[chai] Wigderson (12th grade): (22 pts.)
- Oded Goldreich (11th grade): (15 pts.)
- Roy Meshulam (10th grade): (21 pts.)

I am sure that this is not a coincidence, and that
Joe Gillis's *gilyonot* and the Math Olympiad
were decisive factors in turning these impressionable
teenagers into avid *problem-solvers*,
that made them into world-class combinatorialists
(in the extended sense). One can also "blame"
the pioneering "computer world" column
written by Nahman Givoli that started to appear
in the gilyonot in 1973.

Joe Gillis was a great mathematical researcher, but I am sure that he would have agreed with me that his implicit impact, via his "outreach activities", on today's mathematics, and especially combinatorics and computer science, is much larger than the impact of his research contributions, and for that matter, much larger than the impact of any single mathematician of the 20th century.

Kids nowadays, of course, have many more distractions,
and less attention span, but one can try to emulate
the Gillis example, adapted to today's culture.
Also, it would be nice if the Weizmann Institute's
Science Teaching Department would scan all the back issues,
and publish, on-line, an English translation
of Joe Gillis's *gilyonot lematematika*.
Maybe some future Noga Alon will get hooked!

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