A team of three Oxford undergraduates has accomplished something extraordinary: Alex Frolkin, Frederick van der Wyck, and Stephen Burgess, all 3rd year straight maths students at Merton College, have been selected as one of the 7 Outstanding Winners and have been awarded the Institute for Operations Research and Management Science (INFORMS) Prize in the 2004 Mathematical Contest in Modelling (MCM) organized by The Consortium for Mathematics and its Applications (COMAP). Still more extraordinary, this was their first time competing in the contest which is typically dominated by institutions that have been training and entering teams for many years.
The MCM is a major international competition that is now in its 20th year of operation. This year there were nearly 600 entries from more than 10 countries. The contest took place over a 96 hour period from February 5th to the 9th. At the start of that period two open-ended mathematical modelling problems of real-world importance were revealed on a website. Teams then chose one of the two problems and worked round the clock with little or no sleep over the next four days to produce a written report describing the construction of a model and how analysis of the model yields a practical solution to the problem at hand.
Alex, Frederick, and Stephen demonstrated the versatility of their mathematical backgrounds by choosing Problem B, which deals with designing a more efficient system for the distribution of ride tickets at an amusement park in order to minimize time spent waiting in queues. They combined tools from statistics, computer simulation and mathematics to determine an optimal strategy. In the 96 hours of the contest they produced a paper good enough to be published in a journal! In fact, it will be published later this year in the UMAP Journal (a journal that emphasizes applied maths, modelling, and undergraduate research), along with the other winning entries from this year's contest.
The team was organized by Prof. Ulrike Tillmann (Merton College) and was coached by maths graduate student Jeff Giansiracusa (Merton College), who competed in the MCM several times as an undergraduate.
See also the official contest results.