Who would want to spend an entire day solving a single math problem, from sunrise to well after sunset? Not many would volunteer, but Indian Creek Mathletes are up for the challenge.
This past Saturday, eight ICS mathletes competed in the grueling MathWorks Math Modeling Challenge
. The M3 Challenge happens once a year, and is open to high school juniors and seniors. On the contest weekend, hundreds of teams all over the United States are given a real-world, relevant problem to analyze in detail.
Participating teams must find a way to model the problem, define the important variables, and get results from imperfect and often incomplete information. No significant data is provided in the problem, so students must spend a significant amount of time searching the web for relevant stats and figures. Contestants are strongly encouraged to use software for their number-crunching: Excel, MATLAB, Mathematica, Python, Java, and so on.
They then write up their findings in a report, complete with figures, data tables, appendices, and citations. From the time they download the problem statement, they have 14 hours to do all this. Judges award several dozen scholarship prizes to teams who showcase superior work, ranging from $1,000 to $20,000. The top six teams are invited to travel to New York City to present their paper, answer questions about their models, and receive awards.
This year’s contestants tackled a problem of the utmost gravity and import. What factors can be used to predict the incidence of drug use – specifically alcohol, nicotine, opioids, and marijuana – amongst high school students? How should communities rank these dangers, so that decisions for allocating resources for combatting them effectively? In addition, teams were asked to create a mathematical model of the spread of e-cigarettes amongst high school students over the past 10 years.
Each school may have up to two teams of five students. This year’s ICS competitors were:
Ford Smith ‘19
Liam Lonergan ‘19
Chinyere Ukeje ‘19
Adam Bizri ‘19
Will Morrissey ‘19
Jonathan Levy ‘19
Jared Albert ‘19
Ryan Oberteuffer ‘19
Competitors showed up bright and early, fueled by coffee and doughnuts. There was an air of optimism and excitement with the rising sun. Once they saw the problem, students commenced brainstorming. Different students took on different tasks for themselves: research, writing, coding, and of course defining and refining their mathematical models. With the school building mostly to themselves, the teams played their favorite music at maximum volume.
As noon approached, progress may have slowed a bit. But spirits remained high, and an infusion of pizza and burritos kicked things back into gear. As the afternoon moved on towards evening, breaks for more junk food, singing, dancing, and general silliness helped alleviate the stress.
The deadline approached. With the end in sight, it was obvious that it was time for an all-out push. At 9:00 p.m., both teams were racing to finish writing up their results, edit their graphs and charts, and check for mistakes. When the final submission was made, everyone let out a relieved breath that they had seemingly been holding since 8:00 a.m. Then it was time for a quick game of cards to decompress, and finally stagger on home.
How did they feel about what they had accomplished? Perhaps senior Chi Chi Ukeje said it best: “I really enjoyed the challenge, but I’m also really glad we’re done.”