Undergraduates win awards for outstanding performance in mathematical modeling contest

May 26, 2010

The SIAM Award in the Mathematical Contest in Modeling (MCM), established in 1988, recognizes excellence in modeling concepts among undergraduate students. This year, the two teams that take that honor come from Troy in upstate New York and Wuhan in central China.

Conducted by the Consortium for Mathematics and Its Applications (COMAP), the contest encourages students to analyze and provide solutions to open-ended problems involving mathematical modeling. The competition, which takes place annually and attracts teams from over 500 institutions worldwide, poses one problem each in the continuous and discrete categories. SIAM judges pick a winner in each of the two groups from among those teams deemed "outstanding" in the COMAP judging.

Students from the School of Civil Engineering and Mechanics at the Huazhong University of Science and Technology (HUST) in Wuhan, China took away the prize for the continuous problem, The Sweet Spot. The question asked students to explain the discrepancy between empirical observation and torque theory in the location of the "sweet spot" on a baseball bat the point where the bat makes contact with a ball for maximum power. Team members Zhe Xiong, Qipei Mei and Fei Han, mentored by Professor Liang Gao, cracked the problem with a paper titled, "An Optimal Model of the 'Sweet Spot' Effect."

HUST, located in one of the leading intellectual cities in China, is the first institution from the nation to be a recipient of the award. HUST prides itself on fostering academic innovation through an emphasis on research-based education, and an interdisciplinary approach achieved through ties with national business and industry sectors.

The discrete problem, Criminology, was tackled successfully by students of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, with the paper, "Following the Trail of Data." Participants were asked to develop a model to predict the geographical profile of serial criminals by observing past patterns in time and location of crimes committed. Students Joseph Gibney, Emily Meissen, and Yonatan Naamad from the Department of Mathematical Sciences comprised the winning team, along with faculty advisor, Professor Peter Kramer.

This is the second time that the New York school is coming away with the prize, having previously won it in 2005. The oldest technological university in the U.S., Rensselaer focuses on education through the "application of science to the common purposes of life," a mission no doubt reinforced by this honor.

The two teams have been invited to receive their awards and present their winning papers at the SIAM Annual Meeting in Pittsburgh in July. The prizes, which include one-year student memberships to SIAM and cash awards of $300 per team member, will be presented at the Prizes and Awards Luncheon on Tuesday, July 13, between 12:30 and 2:30 PM. The paper presentations are to follow shortly that afternoon at 4 PM.


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