WFU students win international math contest

Three Wake Forest students have won top awards in an international math contest for solving a problem involving hurricane evacuation plans for the South Carolina coast. The annual Mathematical Contest in Modeling gives undergraduate students the opportunity to compete in a team setting using applied mathematics to solve open-ended “real world” problems.

The three-member Wake Forest team drafted a solution to a complex problem titled “Escaping a Hurricane’s Wrath (An Ill Wind…).” The problem was inspired by the monumental traffic jam that occurred in 1999 during the evacuation of the South Carolina coast because of Hurricane Floyd. The students were asked to construct a mathematical model to investigate what strategies might reduce the traffic congestion in the event of another hurricane threat. They had to address questions such as whether a staggered evacuation plan, rather than the simultaneous evacuation of the state’s coastal region, would improve traffic flow and under what conditions traffic should be reversed on Interstate 26 so that both sides, including the coastal-bound lanes, would carry traffic inland.

Junior Corey Houmand of Lake Arrowhead, Calif.; sophomore Andrew Pruett of Rome, Ga.; and sophomore Adam Dickey of Danville, Ky., competed against approximately 500 teams representing several different countries.

In its 26-page paper, the Wake Forest team concluded that the most useful thing to do is stagger evacuation flow using a county-by-county plan. They developed a mathematical model to determine the ideal number of cars that should be on the highway at any given time.

Each three-member team chooses one of two problems to solve. Separate awards are given for the best solutions to each problem.

The Wake Forest team received one of six Outstanding Awards presented to the teams that tackled the hurricane plan problem. In addition, they received a prize sponsored by the Math Association of America and another sponsored by the Society of Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM). They will have their solution published in a math journal next fall and will present their paper at the annual SIAM meeting in San Diego.

“Our strength in competing against specialized engineering and math schools was our writing skills,” said Pruett. “Communicating your model well is as important as knowing the math.”

The problems are posted online at midnight on a Thursday and the team had until Monday at midnight to submit its paper.

All three of the team members-a physics major, a math major and a mathematical economics major-were enrolled in a one-credit problem solving class that taught techniques for solving applied math problems. Miaohua Jiang, assistant professor of mathematics at Wake Forest, taught the class.

A second team of Wake Forest students was among 43 teams who received the Meritorius Award for its solution to the same problem.

In 2000, Wake Forest students also won the top award.

The 17th annual contest is sponsored by COMAP Inc., a nonprofit organization that produces math-teaching materials. The contest is also funded by the United States National Security Agency.

Categories: Recognition, Student, University Announcement