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Math Contest Provides Challenging Weekend for Davidson Teams

February 9, 2001
Contact: Bill Giduz 704/894-2244 or bigiduz@davidson.edu

Mathematically-inclined students all over the east coast--including six from Davidson--gathered in classrooms at midnight Thursday. Actually, students were gathering all over the world at the same time in their own time zones, all awaiting revelation of the two problems in this year's Consortium for Mathematics and its Applications (COMAP) mathematical contest in modeling.

Math students
Math students (l-r) Tim Valdes, David Johnston, Randy Skattum, and Joe Rusinko await the math challenge.

The Davidson students, along with Assistant Professor of Mathematics Laurie Heyer, enjoyed pizza while waiting for the questions to be posted at the COMAP web site. When that happened at midnight, it signaled the beginning of a long weekend of pondering the best approach to two open-ended questions.

Problem A this year is to determine whether cyclists should use spoked or disk wheels for road races. The model must account for wind speed and road grade.

Math students
Members of team on (l-r) Tim Valdes, Peter Clark, and Davidson Johnston discuss the problems.

Problem B is to recommend evacuation strategies for South Carolina in the event of a major hurricane, motivated by that state's experience with Hurricane Floyd in 1999.

It's the 17th year COMAP has sponsored the contest, but this is the first time Davidson has been involved since 1992. Last year's event attracted 427 teams from 221 institutions in nine countries.

Heyer said the questions are intentionally open-ended. "These are real-world problems with no known solution," she explained. "The contest challenges people to develop reasonable approaches and mathematical models that will address the situation. The quality of the writing and presentation of the results is important, but there won't be a right answer because there is no right answer."

Math students
(l-r) Joe Rusinko, Randy Skattum, and Andy Schultz make up team two.

Two teams of three students will work on the problems until 11:59 p.m. Monday, when they must submit their papers to Heyer to validate and mail to COMAP. One team consists of Tim Valdes '01, Peter Clark '01 and David Johnston '01. The other includes Randy Skattum '01, Andy Schultz '02, Joe Rusinko '01. Heyer showed the teams a winning solution from last year's contest and discussed why it appealed to the judges, but she is not allowed to advise or assist the teams in any way once the contest begins.

COMAP will rate the papers on a scale from "Outstanding" to "Successful Participant," and announce the results in April. The "Outstanding" entries will be published in the UMAP Journal.

Davidson's students will work on the problems outside their regular classes, and receive no academic credit for this extra work. "They're just doing it for fun, and for the glory of Davidson," Heyer said. "I baited them with the fact that the School of Science and Math, Duke University, Wake Forest, and UNC Chapel Hill have all been winners in the past, and Davidson hasn't even been competing. They want to get in there and beat those guys!"

Davidson is a highly selective independent liberal arts college for 1,600 students. Since its establishment in 1837, the college has graduated 23 Rhodes Scholars and is consistently ranked among the top liberal arts colleges in the country by U.S. News and World Report magazine. Davidson recently launched "Let Learning Be Cherished," a $250 million campaign in support of student financial assistance, academic resources, and community life.

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