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Winning "Moody's Mega Math Challenge" Paper Published in CMJ

February 20, 2009

A prize-winning paper written by four high school students for Moody's Mega Math Challenge, a national, Internet-based, applied mathematics contest, has been published in a major mathematics journal.

Titled "Ethanol: Not All It Seems To Be," the paper ran in The College Mathematics Journal (January, 2009). It was the winning submission in the 2008 competition, which was held last March.

The authors were Afanasiy Yermakov and Jason Zukus (now seniors at High Technology High School, Lincroft, N.J.), Tom Jackson (now a freshman at Cornell University), and Kelly Roache (now a freshman at Princeton University). Coached by Raymond Eng, they shared $20,000 in scholarship prizes for their efforts.

The winners researched and wrote their paper in less than 14 hours—per contest rules—and concluded that replacing gasoline with ethanol would not be cost effective until oil was $233 a barrel. They also suggested that nuclear power might be a better way for the U.S. to attain energy independence.

More than 250 high school teams, from New Hampshire to Delaware, had offered solutions to the 2008 Challenge problem: "Energy Independence Meets the Law of Unintended Consequences." They were required to address issues associated with increased corn-derived ethanol production and fuel substitution, and 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.

Teams had to quantify these concerns using mathematical-modeling techniques, develop and defend their models, and justify conclusions.

The Moody's Foundation initiated and provides the funding for the Challenge; the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics organizes and administers the contest. "Our goal, and the goal of the competition, is to motivate high school students to think about solving real-world problems using applied mathematics," said Frances G. Laserson, Moody's Foundation President. "We want to increase students' interest in pursuing studies and careers related to math, economics, and finance."

In 2008, eleven teams were awarded scholarship prizes totaling $65,000. In 2009, the Challenge, open to high schools from all New England and Mid-Atlantic states, will award $80,000 in scholarship prizes. The 2009 contest will take place March 7-8, and registration is now open. See the Moody's Mega Math Challenge video on YouTube.

Source: Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, Jan. 15, 2009.

Start Date: 
Thursday, February 26, 2009