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Palm Harbor student perfect on AP calculus exam

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Published:   |   Updated: December 9, 2013 at 09:39 PM

PALM HARBOR — Aadith Moorthy, an unassuming, soft-spoken senior at Palm Harbor University High School, is one of the smartest high school students in the world.

Moorthy won the National Geographic Bee in 2010 at age 13. He got a perfect score on the SAT earlier this year. And he learned in November he was one of only 11 in the world to get a perfect score on the Advanced Placement Calculus BC exam. More than 104,000 students took the test, arguably the hardest math exam a high school student can take.

At 16 years old, he has been in the national media dozens of times, done research with top scientists at the University of South Florida and maintains a perfect 4.0 GPA, even without the extra weight given by his International Baccalaureate and AP classes. On the Urban Dictionary website, his name is literally a definition for intelligence.

So what’s the secret to Moorthy’s success?

“You have to stay as cool as a cucumber,” Moorthy said. “You can’t allow yourself to be overcome by anxiety or you’ll ruin everything you work for. You can’t just randomly do things, either. You have to work with a plan and trust it.”

Moorthy’s life revolves around “perfect planning,” he said.

When the time came to prepare for the SAT, he took 25 practice tests and learned 5,000 new words. Preparations for his AP exams focused on making sure every section could be completed within the time constraints so he didn’t have to rush through complicated problems. Whether it’s a school night or the weekend, Moorthy is asleep before 10 p.m. so his “brain can be rested and reach its fullest potential” each morning, he said.

“I have to plan ahead to make sure I have time to do all this stuff,” Moorthy said. “It wouldn’t be possible to learn 5,000 new words in a day or even a week. I chart out study plans and start four or five months in advance.”

It’s his otherworldly dedication to his plans and willingness to help his peers without praise makes him an “inspiration” to his AP calculus teacher David MacFarlane.

“I’ve worked with an awful lot of very gifted students, but even in that group Aadith stands out as someone that’s truly special,” MacFarlane said. “He always knows or is working on knowing anything I’m teaching, he looks around as he’s learning things to see how they can be applied and finds motivation in being able to master something new instead of in grades or achievements.”

An only child, Moorthy said his parents play a huge role in his studies, but even with their help, the pressures of his high expectations can be overwhelming. It’s imperative to take deep, meditative breaths before any big test or event to clear his head, he said. Every week, no matter how busy, ends with an hour or two of relaxation with his school ping-pong club, and every night ends with at least an hour of South Indian Carnatic singing, one of few activities he performs just for his own enjoyment. Moorthy finds happiness in his music, his precious time with friends, and discovering ways to use his studies to help others.

Ultimately, Moorthy said he would like to study renewable energy and energy storage at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, enabling anyone, even those living in developing countries, to “buy a continuous supply of power for $5” and to use his talents to “solve a major world crisis.” He’s getting a jump on his mission by volunteering with scientists at USF’s Clean Energy Research Center. The team is on the verge of a breakthrough in using various forms of salt as alternative energy sources, he said. Moorthy is also using his last year of high school to expand a science and mathematics tutoring program he launched in 2011 for both gifted and struggling students at Ozona, Curlew Creek and Oldsmar elementary schools. He spends his summers performing his Carnatic songs at retirement homes in India, a pursuit he’s carried on since he was four.

Moorthy is rarely surprised, but his “magical letter” from the College Board informing him of his perfect score on his calculus exam is an achievement he never expected or even thought was possible, he said.

“Everything else I’ve achieved I’ve had to really work for, spend months or years planning and preparing for,” he said. “This one was a complete surprise, and I would say my biggest success.”

adawson@tampatrib.com

(727) 215-9851

Twitter: @adawsonTBO

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