August 12, 2008
"An applied Putnam."
Ben Fusaro used this phrase in 1983 when described his idea for a mathematical competition, referring to the William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition. Two years later, the Consortium for Mathematics and Its Applications (COMAP) started the Mathematical Contest in Modeling (MCM), a competition designed to test students' abilities to solve realistic problems and work in a team setting.
This year, the MCM drew 1162 teams from all over the world to compete in the contest's 23rd edition, which gave teams of up to three high school or undergraduate students five days to research, model, and submit answers to one of two practical math problems.
Of these entries, nine were judged to be "outstanding," and two of them were deemed this year's MAA prize recipients.
The team of Jason Chen, Joonhahn Cho, and Brian Choi from Duke University was given one of the MAA awards for their work on problem A, which involved modeling the effects of the melting of the north polar ice cap, specifically along the Florida coastline. The team's paper was titled "A Convenient Truth: A Model for Sea Level Rise Forecast."
The group of Martin Hunt, Christopher Pong, and George Tucker from Harvey Mudd College won for their work on problem B, which focused on creating an algorithm to construct Sudoku puzzles of varying difficulty.
Both groups presented their solutions during a session at MathFest 2008 in Madison and were awarded plaques and certificates for their work. The solutions will be published in The UMAP Journal.
MCM Founding Director Fusaro attributes the competition's popularity in part to the challenge of working on practical problems. "Students generally like a challenge and probably are attracted by the opportunity, for perhaps the first time in their mathematical lives, to work as a team on a realistic applied problem," he says.
The most important aspect of the MCM is the impact it has on its participants and, as Fusaro puts it, "the confidence that this experience engenders."