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Clarkson University Stands at Top of Field in International Math Modeling Contest
A team of Clarkson University students won top honors and three other Clarkson teams were designated "meritorious winners" in the 2009 Mathematical Contest in Modeling (MCM), earning bragging rights for the University as the best overall school performance in the competition.
Modeling the energy implications of cellular phones, Clarkson’s top team -- Nevin G. Brackett-Rozinsky, Jason J. Altieri, and Katelynn M. Wilton -- was one of only nine teams designated as "outstanding" and earned further honors by being awarded the Mathematical Association of America (MAA) prize for the top paper on that problem.
Only about 18 percent of the papers earned the "meritorious winner" designation during this year’s competition.
Overall, 350 US teams and 1,325 international teams from 13 countries were competed in the world renowned competition. In addition to schools like Harvard, Cornell, and Harvey Mudd College, the competition included teams from many top programs across the country, including MIT, Cal Poly, Duke, Princeton, Rose-Hulman, RPI, and Stanford, which were unable to achieve such distinction.
The contest ran in February, with the two contest problems being posted on a Thursday evening and solutions due the following Monday. Each team selected one of the two problems for the contest. During the four days of the competition, the team of three students had to develop, analyze, and evaluate a mathematical model of the stated problem and then prepare a detailed scholarly article describing their model and results.
"It involved pulling a couple of all-nighters, back-to-back, to get it all done in time. Luckily, we have a good team, and everyone was willing to work hard," said Wilton. "With our combination of strengths, we could work multiple things in parallel."
Clarkson’s multi-team effort stands out. Of the other outstanding schools, only Tsinghua University (Beijing) had three teams in the meritorious category, but they did so by fielding nine teams for the MCM, with five teams falling outside the highest categories. No school other than Clarkson had the strength and depth to achieve a four-for-four at meritorious or above.
"Last year, we finally broke through to the upper levels, with one Meritorious in the 2008 competition," said Prof. Kathleen R. Fowler, one of the two faculty coordinators for Clarkson’s teams. "We had a lot of young kids last year who tasted some success and wanted more. They worked hard to improve and made it pay off."
"The day after the competition, I told our team advisor [Prof. Joseph D. Skufca] that I thought our model was better than last year, but that I didn’t think our write-up was as good," said Brackett-Rozinsky. "He said it probably just seemed that way because our own personal standards were now higher than when we were freshmen. Apparently, there must have been some truth to his argument."
The writing was good enough for publication, as all of the nine outstanding papers will appear in The UMAP Journal, along with commentary from both the authors and the judges.
The modeling problems this year continued the standard of trying to propose problems that are both topical and current, that help the students to see the relevance of applied mathematics.
Problem A, authored by Danny Solow of Case Western Reserve University, observed that traffic circles come in a variety of designs and sizes, with (possibly) multiple lanes and traffic controls. The goal of the problem was to model traffic in the circle to determine how to best control traffic flow in, around, and out of the circle.
Problem B, written by Joe Malkevitch of York College, Jamaica, N.Y., focused on the energy consequences of the growth in cell phone usage. The students were challenged to consider (and model) not only the electric requirements to recharge the phones, but also the energy associated with replacement of cell phones due to their limited service life when compared to landlines. The modelers were asked to scale this problem to a country similar to the U.S., with anticipated (modeled) growth over the next 50 years, as well as some consideration of optimal approaches for transition based on energy needs.
"Because of our experience from last year, we told ourselves that we would decide quickly on our choice of problem," said Jason Altieri. "But despite that plan, we still spent more than three hours deciding on Thursday night, and it was almost midnight before we committed to Problem B."
The Clarkson Mathematical Modeling group will lose three seniors before next year’s competition. "We’ll look for new members next fall, typically coming from the freshman calculus classes," said Skufca. "We invite them to our preparatory seminars, which we start near mid October. Love of math, regardless of the major, is all that is required. Recruiting a cadre of excited freshmen helps to build a continuing program."
To Clarkson’s benefit, the winning team is all sophomores and intends to stay together for the next competition, hoping to lead Clarkson to another superior showing. The Clarkson math modeling group intends to take full advantage of the experience as they prepare all of their teams for next year.
Team 1 was made up of sophomores Nevin G. Brackett-Rozinsky, a mathematics major from Limerick, Maine; Jason J. Altieri, financial information & analysis and interdisciplinary engineering & management, Penfield, N.Y.; and Katelynn M. Wilton, computer science and biology, Syracuse, N.Y.
Team 2 : Freshman Xu Wu, chemical engineering, Shenzhen, China; freshman Brett D. Walker, chemical engineering, Chestertown, N.Y.; and sophomore Robert T. Hall, software engineering and mathematics, Keene Valley, N.Y.
Team 3: Seniors Matthew D. Parno, electrical engineering and applied mathematics & statistics, Greenfield, N.Y.; Ryan T. Watkins, aerospace engineering, Ballston Spa, N.Y.; and Sayuri D. Yapa, mechanical engineering, Hannawa Falls, N.Y.
Team 4: Sophomore Xiaojing Fu, mathematics, Hunan, China; junior Andrew D. Davis, mathematics, Underhill, Vt.; and sophomore Ryan M. Northrup, mathematics, Columbus, N.C.
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