Students Flex Mathematical Modeling Muscle in International Competition



By Casey Moffitt
Students Flex Mathematical Modeling Muscle in International Competition

A team of students from Illinois Institute of Technology proved its mettle in mathematical modeling last month in a prestigious international competition.

The team of Vinesh Kannan (CS 4th year), Haosheng “Nick” Li (CS 4th year), and Baoshu Feng (BIOL 4th year) earned a Meritorious Winners award in the Mathematical Contest in Modeling hosted by the Consortium for Mathematics and Its Applications. More than 14,000 teams of students from around the world participated in the competition, and the Illinois Tech team placed in the top 6 percent with 0.3 percent placing above them.

A mathematical modeling contest gives an open-ended description of a real-life situation. Contestants come up with a mathematical model describing the situation, check whether a model is a good fit for the situation by using real data and complex computations, and use that model in a policy decision-making process. Kannan, Li, and Feng had four days to complete the contest, which resulted in a 20-plus page report and a computational implementation outlining the solution.

“It’s the equivalent of doing a senior thesis in four days,” says Hemanshu Kaul, associate professor of applied mathematics and the team’s advisor. “This requires an excellent skillset in mathematics, computation, and written communication, all of which are essential for success in the modern workplace.”

The problem presented to Kannan, Li, and Feng involved getting medical supplies to hospitals across Puerto Rico after a natural disaster through the use of drones. The students developed a system to solve four interconnected problems: comparing flight capabilities of drone models, optimizing delivery of medical supplies to hospitals, monitoring road networks with video cameras to inform ground-based routing, and packing all needed components into three International Organization for Standardization shipping containers.

The Department of Applied Mathematics sponsors one team each year to participate in the contest.