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O’Dowd Students Stand Out in Sophisticated Math Competition

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A quartet of O’Dowd students learned in February that they placed in the top 10 percent out of 938 teams (from 256 schools) in the 20th Annual High School Mathematical Contest in Modeling (HiMCM) held in November.

Henry Tang ’20 and juniors Pearl Li ’19, Coco Feng and Emily Bai ’19 used mathematics to present a solution to a real-world modeling problem: using drones to create three possible aerial light show displays – a Ferris wheel, dragon and an image of their choosing – the Golden Gate Bridge.

The students worked on the problem over the course of a designated 36 hour period last November – taking short breaks to sleep and eat. “It was exhausting,” Li said.

For each display the students had to determine the number of drones required and mathematically describe the initial location for each drone device that will result in the sky display (similar to a fireworks display) of a static image. Then they had to determine the flight paths of each drone or set of drones that would animate each image and describe the animation.

Additionally, they had to determine and discuss the requirements for the three-display light show, including the number of drones, required launch area, required air space, safety considerations and duration of the aerial light show.

“We first brainstormed – for a relatively long period of time – on the outline of our solution to the problems. We researched online for information and used our knowledge from math and science to come up with the best approach we could think of. Many times we needed to change or reverse our initial solutions when a problem came up,” Li said. “Then we divided up the job and each person took charge of one part of the problems. We helped each other along the way and synthesized our parts together in the end.”

Math Department chairperson Carlos Trujillo said the contest was particularly challenging because there was not an obvious answer.

“This contest had them simulate what the highest level scientists or mathematicians are doing, which is coming up with solutions to complex problems. And this wasn’t a one-step problem. They were given a scenario with a handful of parameters and had to use their knowledge, ingenuity and perseverance to come up with the best answer they could,” Trujillo said.

“I’m really proud of them because they took a chance and believed in themselves,” he added.

The students plan to participate in the 2018 contest this fall.


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