Relative numbers

Author(s): Tim Brouk
Photographs by: Tim Brouk

Baeza brothers

From left: Luis and Edwin Baeza

Brothers Edwin and Luis Baeza are bonded not only by blood, but also by numbers.

Mathematics came easy when they were kids, and it grew into a passion in high school. Now at Purdue and both math majors, Edwin, a sophomore, and Luis, a freshman, are exploring all of the possibilities the numbers game has to offer.

These Fort Wayne siblings by way of Los Angeles feel challenged and excited about the many possibilities the Department of Mathematics offers. The storied Purdue math program has been a launch pad to thousands of students before the Baeza brothers, but few have impressed so quickly as Luis and Edwin.

Professor Monica Torres has been at Purdue for nine years. She says Luis excelled in her differential equations course, and she is impressed with his desire to learn more and succeed.

“He is doing so well and tries so much. He has a passion for education and learning,” Torres says.

Both brothers are members of the Purdue Math Club and foresee many accomplishments while Boilermakers.

In comic books, some superheroes realize their powers early in life. The same can be said for the Baeza boys’ math prowess.

“In fourth grade, I guess they noticed some of us were better (at math),” Edwin recalls. “They placed us in this independent group with three other kids to study fifth-grade math in the classroom.”

The next year, Luis was a fourth-grader and made a similar discovery. That was when he realized he could do math in his head faster than he could write down the answers.

“I noticed I was good at the computational aspect of it,” he remembers. “I was really quick at doing multiplication tables. I think in fourth grade, we had a competition thing in this class. We were given a list of multiplication tables to see who could do the most in 60 seconds. … I kind of just beat everybody out, all the time. We used an alphabet scale to measure how far we would get. Most kids got P or Q. I got EE because it would start over once you got past the Z level.”

The two tore through their classes in junior high and high school until dreaded calculus, which has humbled many a numbers-savvy student for generations.

“Up until then, I could just sort of get by with math,” Edwin says. “I would do the minimum. It just felt like that. With calculus, I had to think about it. I can honestly say calculus was the first class that challenged me mathematically. After that, my interest went exponential. I just wanted more and more.”

When it came time to look for colleges, Edwin weighed a handful of options but one of his teachers, Joseph Deitche, a Purdue math alumnus, urged his pupil to look toward West Lafayette. Luis, however, says Purdue was the only option for him. And though only one year in, he is pleased with the decision.

“I felt Purdue really wanted me,” Luis says. “So far, it hasn’t been too much of a struggle to adapt (to college).”

Through Math Club, the brothers have quickly found proof-based math was what they want to pursue. Of course, the tracks they are currently pursuing differ. Their genetic material is the same, but the brothers are not clones. Luis is getting into number theory, Galois theory — a connection between field and group theories — and the algebraic side of math while Edwin is getting more into analysis.

“He got algebra a lot faster but I took real analysis and partial differential equations, which is like analysis,” Edwin says.

Already, the Baezas are expecting to pursue graduate school. They are also looking to mentor their younger brother, Eric, a 15-year-old currently excelling at math back at South Side High School in Fort Wayne. Yes, there is yet another Baeza boy showing potential and talent in math. Because Edwin and Luis are so close in age, they never felt the need to help or tutor each other. They kneweach had a solid grasp on any math class.

Luis and Edwin laugh at trying to explain why math is so prevalent in their family. Their father, Luis, is known throughout the family as an expert at guessing how much products cost. Great for “The Price Is Right” but the students never thought the skill required much math.

“We just thought it was because he’s so cheap,” Edwin quips.

The Baezas’ prepotency for math may defy a sound explanation, but Torres and other Purdue math faculty don’t care. They are thrilled to add two more bright students to the legend of Purdue mathematics.

“I think they are going to do well,” Torres says. “They’re going to succeed. I’m confident.”