Published: May 28, 2021 By

Six teams, sponsored by applied math and engineering, joined the competition, with one winning the highest honor available

Several University of Colorado Boulder undergraduates showed off their communication, programming and mathematical skills earlier this year in the 37th annual Math Contest in Modeling that featured 26,112 teams representing universities from 15 countries.

The competition, hosted by the Consortium for Mathematics and its Applications (COMAP), featured six teams from CU Boulder, sponsored by the Department of Applied Math and the Engineering Honors program. Each team had three students from several STEM majors.

One CU Boulder team received the highest honor of “outstanding” and won the Mathematical Association of America (MAA) award, the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics award (SIAM) and a $10,000 COMAP scholarship award. 

There are only 36 teams designated as outstanding, out of 26,112, and CU had one of them. CU has exceptional students!"

“That’s an amazing achievement,” said Anne Dougherty, associate chair for Applied Math who, together with Professors Bengt Fornberg and Manuel Lladser, organized the teams. “There are only 36 teams designated as outstanding, out of 26,112, and CU had one of them. CU has exceptional students!”

CU Boulder teams and results include:

  • Emma Goodwill, Lauren Marsh and Ishika Patel took home the MAA award, the SIAM award and $10,000 COMAP scholarship award 
  • Branson Camp, Aloha Churchill and Steven Oakes were finalists and received the MAA award
  • Claudia Chen, Junwoo Lee and Joshua Sun earned meritorious honors
  • Grant Norman, Brandon Finley and Allison Liu won honorable mention
  • Sanjay Kumar Keshava, Peter Lande, Luke Morrissey, Caden McVey, Henry Terhaar and Aditya Vepa all received successful participant designation honors. 

This year’s contest took place in early February, when teams researched, modeled and wrote solutions to real-world problems.

MCM group header

One of the problems considered the best use of different types of drones in fighting wildfires in Australia in 2019-20. Teams had to learn the capabilities of two types of drones (surveillance and hovering) before creating models to determine the optimal numbers, mix and locations of the drones. Teams also addressed adapting their models to the likelihood of extreme fire events and equipment costs during the next decade.

Another problem investigated the discovery and sightings of the Asian giant hornet in the state of Washington. Teams addressed how to interpret data from public reports along with strategies to prioritize those reports for additional investigation given limited resources. Also, as most reported sightings are erroneous, teams developed a model to predict the likelihood of a mistaken classification. Teams then used their models to prioritize the investigation of reports most likely to be positive sightings. Plus, teams addressed updates to their models over time and indicators of eradication. 

A third problem related to the carbon cycle and addressed how different fungi interact and decompose ground litter in different environments, how decomposition changes over time in varying conditions and how environmental changes affect the long-term dynamics of decomposition. Additionally, teams used modeling to predict relative advantages and disadvantages for fungi species and combinations of species likely to persist in varying environments. 

The winning teams’ findings, along with commentaries from the problem authors and judges, will appear in a coming edition of the Undergraduate Mathematics and Its Applications Journal

Dougherty said that since 2008, CU Boulder’s applied math and engineering honors program have won 14 outstanding awards and 17 other prizes and scholarship awards.  

“CU has a rich history and long tradition of taking exceptional students and training them well, and this has led to continued excellence in the MCM (Math Contest in Modeling),” Dougherty said.