Alexandria, VA – For 14 straight hours in early March, a team of Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJHSST) students participated in an international online math modeling competition. Using both creative thinking and mathematical modeling, the team submitted one of the best solutions to questions about the predicted growth of e-bike use and its impacts on society, including climate, traffic congestion, and the environment.
The TJHSST team, consisting of Rishabh Chhabra, Om Gole, Rishabh Prabhu, Jerry Sheng, and Laura Zhang, is one of the six overall finalist teams and one of the three finalist teams for the Technical Computing Scholarship Award in MathWorks Math Modeling Challenge (M3 Challenge), a unique competition that drew nearly 3,000 11th and 12th graders in the U.S. and sixth form students in the U.K. this year.
Now in its 18th year, M3 Challenge is a program of Philadelphia-based Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM) and is sponsored by MathWorks. It spotlights applied mathematics as a powerful problem-solving tool and motivates students to consider further education and careers in applied math, computational and data sciences, and technical computing. Winning teams will be awarded a share of $100,000 in scholarships, with the champion team receiving $20,000 in 2023.
Roughly 45% of team submissions used technical computing to support their solutions, and those coding skills make them eligible for additional scholarship prizes. The TJHSST team has one last hurdle on April 24, when they present their findings to a panel of professional mathematicians for final validation.
As M3 Challenge judge and lead problem developer Neil Nicholson, University of Notre Dame sees it, “News feeds, magazines, and everyday discussions seem to be filled with talk of ‘the future of the automobile.’ In the past couple years, though, the rise in popularity of smaller electric personal transportation devices has somewhat changed the conversation. While these changes can be meaningful at the individual level, they also are shaping larger scale policy-related questions. It is really interesting to see how the modelers attacked these questions, because understanding how the past influences the future will surely provide insight into these big real-world issues.”
TJHSST teacher-coach Quinn McFee also notes, “It is one thing to study and demonstrate understanding of a concept; we can define learning that way. However, synthesizing this information in the framework of an authentic problem allows us to take ownership of that learning.” And team member Jerry Sheng found the M3 Challenge to be a foundational math experience that advanced his understanding of society. “Data is the history of the past and an indicator of the future; understanding how to handle data in a precise way allows us to systematically understand any real-world scenario. Math modeling gives us invaluable skills not only in math, but in how you tackle any question life may throw at you. Plus, this year’s problem has persuaded me to buy an e-bike in the future!”