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Student mathematics team wins top honors in international competition

BLACKSBURG, Va., May 20, 2011 – A team of three mathematics majors from the College of Science recently received top honors at the annual Mathematical Contest in Modeling (MCM) sponsored by the Consortium for Mathematics and its Applications.

Patrick O’Neil of Oak Hill, Va., Will Frey of Fairfax, Va. (also a physics major), and Evan Paul Menchini of Durham, N.C., received an “Outstanding” rating for a modeling project that required them to design a VHF network with specified constraints in four days. The team was one of only four to receive an outstanding rating out of the 1,500 teams that worked on the project. In addition, the team’s paper was given first prize by the Mathematical Association of America (MAA).

The MCM challenges teams of students to clarify, analyze, and propose solutions to open-ended problems. The contest attracts diverse students and faculty advisors from more than 500 institutions around the world.

“The team’s final paper was more detailed and creative then many successful Ph.D. theses I have read and accepted,” said John Rossi, professor of mathematics. Rossi, along with Lizette Zietsman, assistant professor, and Henning Mortveit, simulation science mathematician with the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute, served as advisors for the team and four others from the department that participated in the competition.

“It takes a very special skill set to do well in the MCM competition,” Rossi said. “The problems are deliberately vague. There is never just one correct solution. Their presentation to our department was no less than stunning, turning the heads of many seasoned faculty members.”

This year’s MCM competition had 2,775 entrants worldwide. Teams could choose between one of two mathematical modeling projects and had to work collaboratively to design a solution in four days. O’Neil, Frey, and Menchini will present their winning project at the national MAA meeting this summer. All three graduated earlier this month.

The College of Science at Virginia Tech gives students a comprehensive foundation in the scientific method. Outstanding faculty members teach courses and conduct research in biological sciences, chemistry, economics, geosciences, mathematics, physics, psychology, and statistics. The college offers programs in cutting-edge areas including, among others, those in energy and the environment, developmental science across the lifespan, infectious diseases, computational science, nanoscience, and neuroscience. The College of Science is dedicated to fostering a research-intensive environment that promotes scientific inquiry and outreach.