Luckadoo earns top spot

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By MIKE EDDLEMAN

For those who want to discuss the fluid mechanics around the flow of incompressible fluids, Hayden Luckadoo is the one to call.

The graduating senior – and Class of 2018 valedictorian – has his sights set on a $1 million prize and the chance to say he solved one of the world’s great mysteries.

Tackling the unsolvable problem is the only goal that made sense for Luckadoo as he plotted his future.

“I set a goal that I knew was pretty unrealistic my freshman year and I was just going to work toward solving this problem that has remained unsolved for 150 years,” he said. “In doing that, I was able to take a path that helped me knock out these things along the way to this much bigger goal. Having that really helped me.”

That bigger goal is to solve the Millennium Problem centered on the Navier-Stokes equation.

“In middle school, I was Googling random ways to make $1 million, and one of them was to solve one of the six world’s hardest problems,” he said. “I found one that looked interesting and it looked like the hardest one at the time, so I decided I was going to do it.”

He hasn’t solved it yet – smiling when he emphasizes “not yet” – but the logic was sound, as the drive to solve the unsolvable helped him reach the top of his class and finish there.

“I made a four-year plan,” he said with a smile. “I’m far enough away to where it is still a dream, but it will never go away and I won’t stop working on it. What helps me now is this problem follows along the same track of math and science I was going to follow along anyway. It is just a means by which I could propel myself through the process.

After a pause, he added.

“I’m not going to lie, the $1 million prize sounds pretty nice.”

With lots of plans for college and bigger plans beyond that, he said nothing would make him stop researching and thinking about the challenge of Navier-Stokes.

“Basically you have to prove the equation is true,” Luckadoo said. “It describes how fluids flow and there is turbulent flow and laminar flow. For turbulent flow we really don’t know how to predict that. We have pretty good explanations but there is nothing really concrete out there. There was an equation postulated in the 1800s I believe, and it stood to the test of practice, but the test of theory doesn’t really explain it. The person who can prove what it means, and can prove or disprove the equation as a whole on a subatomic level gets to claim the prize.”

With plans to attend the University of Texas Honors Program in the fall, majoring in both synthetical engineering and statistical economics with a minor in English, Luckadoo said working on the problem will continue to be a helpful driver for his future.

“The problem has a lot of real word applications, and if I can prove it’s true or why it’s true the world of differential equations gets better,” he said. “I can then apply what I learn here elsewhere and it can help in my goal of becoming an entrepreneur.”

He knows that such a double major is no small hill to climb, but he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“It’s a lot to fit in,” Luckadoo said. “I’m interested in doing entrepreneurial type things in the future and I thought if I’m going to be an entrepreneur I have to have something to sell, and I have to know how to sell it. So the way to do that is have a major in how to make things that are really small, because people like things that are really small, and know how to sell that to people.

“I really like chemical engineering and I think there’s a lot of possibility in the future with that. Right now how we predict the shape of things and how they react, it’s pretty shaky science, and if I can crack some of that and work out that math, I should be able to see some really good results.”

Solving the Millennium Problem was a goal before trying to graduate at the top of his class, but the two just fit together along the way.

“When I got into high school, I had no intention of trying to be valedictorian,” he said. “But then when the grades were posted at the end of the first semester I saw I was tied for first, so I decided to go pretty hard for a while and at the end of that year I managed to come out first, so I was just trying to hold it from there. I didn’t really feel safe until this semester.”

Four years of focus and effort have paid off, proving to Luckadoo that his strategy worked.

“I planned out my schedule starting my freshman year with the intention of trying to maximize my grades on pure value, so I took all these AP classes trying to prepare for it,” he said. “Now that I’m finally coming to the conclusion of that, the payoff is absolutely relieving and satisfying. It is a little exhausting, but it is really worthwhile. I’ve heard a lot of ‘relax and don’t worry about it, you’re going to be fine either way’, but I’ll be the judge of that.”

Luckadoo enjoyed his high school experience, but admitted his math and science classes and time in band were especially rewarding.

“I was a huge fan of my math, science and band classes,” he said. “All the science teachers at our school are terrific and they helped me along the way 100 percent.”

Teachers like Paul Rubin in physics and Haika Karr in math made a big difference.

“He was amazing in getting me resources for, strangely enough, a lot of economics type things and a lot of ideas on how I should approach problems,” Luckadoo said of Rubin, adding that Karr was instrumental in math. “She was there to help push me along and helped me with motivation when I was trying to get through stuff, and helped me when I was stuck on a problem in the math world.”

Other science teachers, like Mike Staton in biology and Bonnie Dortch in chemistry, happily bore the brunt of Luckadoo’s inquisitive nature, and he was glad for it.

“One of my terrible habits is I’ve got a lot of questions and he was patient through that and I’m super appreciative of that,” he said.

To be prepared, Luckadoo had a simple strategy of getting a real head start.

“My strategy was I would take the class before I took the class,” he said. “I would teach myself the material through an online course, or just go to Goodwill and buy a textbook and just read that cover to cover. Then I’d be ready for class and ready to get a better feel for the material.”

He taught himself calculus the summer after his freshman year.

Outside of the academic classroom, Luckadoo invested time and energy in UIL competitions for math and science, finishing second in state as a sophomore.

“I’ve had this idealized image of how I wanted to manage the things I wanted to do,” he said. “I wanted to have a heavy focus on academics, athletics and then some sort of other thing and I went with band because I had two brothers that were in it and I like the people in it.”

In band, he played the trombone and was head drum major as a senior.

“Band definitely helped me learn how to form relationships,” Luckadoo said. “When I came in I was not very charismatic at all, but I was able to transition to the point where I became head drum major.”

So where did all that time to take on so many different things come from? It was pretty simple in Luckadoo’s mind.

“Making sure I had the time for that was a very active endeavor,” he said. “I don’t know if there’s a single way to make sure you have time for that sort of thing other than just making sure you make time. There’s a lot of time in the day and a lot of time goes unused.”

Based on his experience and what he’s learned in his drive through high school, Luckadoo has a few pieces of advice.

“A lot of people spend literally hours thinking of what they are going to do next,” Luckadoo said. “I know this isn’t a very standard recommendation, but being impulsive in terms of shooting for the stars has absolutely helped me. Spend 15 minutes a week creating a list of things you could be doing, and if you find yourself not doing something, choose one. Be impulsive and choose one.”

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