The team of math wiz kids at Capital High School was a bit stunned to learn last week that they are one of the top two teams in the nation in the High School Mathematical Contest in Modeling (HiMCM).
Now they are one of two U.S. teams competing in the International Mathematical Modeling Challenge of 27 teams.
Last November they started out as one of 330 competing from the United States.
In that round they spent 36 hours tackling a problem about where to place warehouses in the country for a company to be able to do one-day delivery anywhere in the country.
In the 19 years of the competition, the CHS team was the first Montana team to be named a qualifier, and was named one of nine National Finalist Teams.
In the most recent round of competition, the problem they tackled was jet lag.
The team had to create algorithms to pick the best spot for an international meeting for citizens coming in from different countries so they would suffer the least amount of jet lag and productivity loss.
One scenario had six attendees, another with 11.
The team took five days, mostly over spring break in March, to solve the problem.
Once again, the team of seniors Jack Murphy, Caleb Noble and Willie Gross and junior Jaskrit Singh did some impressive analysis and modeling to finally decide that two communities in Russia would be the best location for the first meeting, and Beirut or Cairo would be best for the second.
In their model, they considered such factors as distance, travel time, number of time zones the attendees had to cross, climate changes and costs.
“There was a lot that went into our decision-making,” said Gross.
“We did some research on how these different factors would affect a person’s work productivity,” said Noble.
“I think the reason we did so well is we wrote a program that automated the whole process,” said Murphy.
After their program worked for the two scenarios, they then tried it out on a real world problem of choosing a city for a G20 Summit.
Their model “tested well,” said Murphy. “This year the meeting’s being held in Germany and that was one of our top results.”
Among the many things they learned was that flying east was more detrimental to productivity than flying west, said Noble. When you fly east you lose hours, thereby losing sleep.
Their winning paper from this round is what goes forward to the international competition.
“By late June, we’ll have our results,” said Noble.
As they did in the November competition, they divvied up the workload.
“Pretty much all we did was coding,” said Murphy of this problem, rather than any complex math. They primarily used a lot of Python and MATLAB coding.
Singh did data mining, focusing on costs and travel times.
Gross worked on time zones and the effect time zones would have on each participant based on where they were from.
Noble split the world into 75 zones and and took the data for time zones, travel time and climate change and created an algorithm to score the regions against each other for productivity.
“I did the distance between each person in every region...and synthesized all the other things and put it in an automation program ...so you could easily see what was the best and worst regions…,” said Murphy.
Grueling and fun was how they described the experience.
“For me, it was the experience that will last a lifetime,” said Gross, “four teenagers locked away doing math and computers. ...It was a pretty cool experience.“
Singh found out that working on math five days straight was something he enjoys. “If I had a job like this, it would be a lot of fun.”
“We really didn’t expect this,” said Murphy, noting that their team was going up against some of the elite private schools in the country as well as science and math magnet and charter schools, including such schools as Miss Porter's School in Connecticut and Rutgers Preparatory School.
“I don’t think any of us expected to get this far. ...to get top two in the nation," said Murphy. "We’re all really proud to be from Montana and representing our state on the world’s stage. ...It kind of seems surreal.”
“Helena School District should be very proud of producing world class talent,” he added. “This has been a pretty good month for them with the school bond.”
“They’re going to represent the United States, “ said their math teacher Dennis Peterson. “That’s pretty impressive. So all those big magnet schools and prep schools, they beat them.”
The three graduating seniors are heading in various directions next fall, Murphy to Williams College; Noble, MIT, both located in Massachusetts; and Gross, the University of St. Thomas, Minnesota.