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C.O.W. math team top in nation

Mariah Joyce

Chief Copy Editor

On Friday, April 4, a College of Wooster team which had participated in the international Mathematical Contest in Modeling discovered that they had finished first in the nation and eleventh worldwide. The team, comprised of Popi Palchoudhuri ’16, Sunny Mitra ’16 and Dagm Ayalew ’16, was thrilled at the news.

The competition spanned 96 hours from Thursday, Feb. 6 at 7 p.m. to Monday, Feb. 10 at 7 p.m. Competitors could choose from one of three available problem sets: problem A involved analyzing traffic patterns in a variety of countries, problem B involved building a model to determine the best college coach (past or present) and problem C involved, according to Ayalew, “Using networks to measure impact and influence,” — in this case citation networks.

Initially, the group was conflicted on which problem to tackle; Palchoudhuri wanted problem A, Mitra was interested in B and Ayalew wanted C, the citation networks problem. The group eventually settled on problem C -— Ayalew and Mitra were both taking a class in networks, making the choice easier.

Though Palchoudhuri was not enrolled in the class, this actually proved an asset to the team, as it forced Ayalew and Mitra to explain concepts in an easily accessible way.

According to Ayalew, “The main question was finding the most influential author from a co-authorship network … The next question was finding the most influential paper from a citation network.”

The team delegated responsibilities; Palchoudhuri wrote most of the 20-page paper, Mitra was the primary researcher and Ayalew conducted the data modeling.

Although the team ultimately did quite well, their path to success was rocky. All told, they put in about 80 hours of work, but according to the team most of that was trial and error. They worked and reworked the problem until finally achieving a working model and beginning to enter their data at 8 a.m. on Monday — 11 hours before the deadline.

“We gave up many times,” said Palchoudhuri.

Visiting Assistant Professor of Mathematics Matthew Moynihan, the team advisor, and Assistant Professor of Mathematics Robert Wooster, the coordinator, were as supportive as they could be without giving any actual mathematical help. Explaining how they survived the 80 hours of work, Mitra said “There was a lot of caffeine, a lot of food, lots of chocolates — our advisors got us chocolates, and they took us out for dinner.”

The team also worked together to keep each other motivated, and the musical stylings of artists Jay Z and Drake were reportedly heavily influential in the team’s success.

Because the problem was interdisciplinary, the team had to map the citation data given to them and demonstrate the usefulness of their model in other realms by mapping another data set of their choice.

“We chose to model the war network, and used it to uncover which countries were the most warmongering and which countries were victimized the most,” said Ayalew. They did this using factor like GDP and defense spending. They chose this in part because, according to Mitra, “We were looking for something that would connect two countries and would also have data easily available.”

The team’s success came as a pleasant surprise. Said Mitra, “I was just coming out of class and a professor said ‘Congratulations! … I heard you did really well on the math competition!’” Mitra then went to Dr. Wooster, who confirmed the news.

“It was unexpected,” added Palchoudhuri. “We went into it just for the experience — 96 hours of only math … It was just the three of us, the internet and books.”

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