Teenagers consider U.S. energy independence

March 14, 2008

High school students attempt to solve the gas vs. ethanol debate in Moody's Mega Math Challenge

This past Saturday and Sunday, March 8 and 9, more than 250 teams of high school juniors and seniors participating in Moody's Mega Math (M3) Challenge worked tirelessly in an attempt to solve a major global problem: the replacement of gasoline by ethanol as it relates to U.S. energy independence.

The 2008 M3 Challenge problem, entitled "Energy Independence Meets the Law of Unintended Consequences," called on student teams to discuss issues associated with increased corn-derived ethanol production and fuel substitution. They were required to relate these matters to dramatic and unanticipated rises in farm commodity pricing, the future of food supplies in developing nations, the effect on carbon-dioxide emissions, and the cost-effectiveness of producing ethanol fuel. Teams were required to quantify these concerns using mathematical modeling techniques, develop and defend these models, and justify their conclusions.

More than 1100 students participated in the largest field that M3 Challenge organizers have seen in the three years since the contest began. Schools from lower New Hampshire through Wilmington, Delaware, participated in this entirely Internet-based contest. Teams of three to five students were able to download the problem at 7:00 a.m. on their selected Challenge day (Saturday or Sunday), and had to upload their solution papers by 9:00 p.m. that same night.

Challenge headquarters received 253 viable solution papers, which will undergo an extensive judging process. Judging for the Challenge is blind, with teams known only to the judges by their unique ID number. The judging occurs in three stages: first is a triage phase where two-thirds or more of the solution paper submissions are eliminated; the second phase further calibrates the papers, with judges arriving at and tentatively ranking the top 11 papers. Generally, 10 or more professional applied Ph.D.-level mathematicians have read papers that reach this phase. The third and final phase of judging involves presentations by the top six teams at the Moody's Corporation headquarters in New York City. Those presentations will take place April 30, immediately followed by an awards ceremony.

To see the 2008 problem visit http://m3challenge.siam.org/M3_Challenge_PROBLEM_08.pdf.

To see if your local high school participated in the M3 Challenge go to http://m3challenge.siam.org/pdf/registered_schools_08.pdf.

For more information on the Challenge, visit http://m3challenge.siam.org.

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About the Challenge
The M3 Challenge spotlights applied mathematics as a powerful problem-solving tool, as a viable and exciting profession, and as a vital contributor to advances in an increasingly technical society. Scholarship prizes total $65,000. The Challenge is entirely Internet-based and there are no entrance or participation fees. Each high school may enter up to two teams of three to five students each. Students choose which day they wish to work on Challenge weekend and have 14 hours to solve an open-ended, realistic, applied math-modeling problem focused on real-world issues. Teams can work from any location they choose and can use any free and publicly available resources, but they may not discuss any aspect of the problem with, or seek help from, their coach or anyone other than their teammates. You can find complete details, sample problems, and archives of previous winners and Challenge events at http://m3challenge.siam.org.

About the Sponsor
The Moody's Foundation is a charitable organization dedicated to supporting a variety of nonprofit education, health and human services, civic, and arts and culture programs. Established by Moody's Corporation in 2001, the Foundation's primary area of giving is secondary and higher education with a focus on mathematics, economics and finance. Further information is available at http://philanthropy.moodys.com.

Moody's Corporation (NYSE: MCO), an essential component of the global capital markets, provides credit ratings, research, tools and analysis that contribute to stable, transparent and integrated financial markets. Moody'sCorporation is the parent company of Moody's Investors Service and Moody's Analytics, encompassing Moody's non-ratings businesses. With revenues of $2.3 billion in 2007, Moody's employs approximately 3,600 people worldwide and maintains a presence in 27 countries. Further information is available at www.moodys.com.

About the Organizer
The Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM), headquartered in Philadelphia, PA, is an international society of over 11,000 individual members. These include applied and computational mathematicians and computer scientists, as well as other scientists and engineers. Members are researchers, educators, students, and practitioners from 85 countries in industry, government, laboratories, and academia. The Society, which also includes more than 500 academic and corporate institutional members, serves and advances the disciplines of applied mathematics and computational science by publishing a variety of books and prestigious peer-reviewed research journals, by conducting conferences, and by hosting activity groups in various areas of mathematics. SIAM provides many opportunities for students including regional sections and student chapters. Further information is available at www.siam.org.


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