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Last Updated: Tuesday, 1 May 2007, 07:44 GMT 08:44 UK
Chinese maths puzzle solutions
Chinese challenge winner
David Brockley rattled off the answer in a lunch break

A maths challenge from China - used to show how far British science undergraduates are slipping behind in maths standards - has been successfully tackled by a Shoreham software engineer.

Last week, the Royal Society of Chemistry offered a 500 reward for answering a maths problem which is part of a Chinese university entry test - to illustrate how much Chinese science students were outstripping their UK counterparts.

The challenge triggered a "phenomenal" level of interest, says the Royal Society of Chemistry.

"The competition led to massive e-mail traffic, the establishment of internet blog sites and newspaper articles in numerous countries as diverse as China, Iran and the USA," says Royal Society of Chemistry chief executive Richard Pike.

Almost a million people looked at the puzzle on the BBC News website.

The winner - with the first correct answer drawn from among thousands of entries - was 34-year-old David Brockley from Shoreham-by-Sea, West Sussex.

Another prize of 250 was given for international entrants - won by Henri Saarikoski who lives in the Netherlands.

Angle grinders

Mr Brockley answered the maths problem during his lunch break on Friday - assisted, apparently, by his four-month-old son, Jack.

The Royal Society of Chemistry set the problem to show the gap between what is expected of undergraduates in the UK and those youngsters seeking to enter university in China.

The puzzle included a much easier maths question from an unnamed university in England, set to assess the capabilities of first year science students.

A Kings College London maths professor, William Shaw, rejected the comparison with China - saying students in the UK had a different approach to maths, but that did not mean that they were less able.

"We should not damage our international 'brand' with foolish comparisons," said Professor Shaw.

In case anyone was struggling with the maths challenge, the Royal Society of Chemistry explained:

"The question required knowledge of geometry within a prism, and the ability to visualise the orientation of lines and planes in three dimensions.

"The key to its solution was to recognise that that the prism had the cross-section of a kite."

Chinese maths test

And the answers for the Chinese university entry test were:

Answers to China university maths test

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