Paly juniors to compete in international math contest

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    Juniors Andrew Lee, Kathryn Li, Allison Zhang and Eric Foster pose for a picture after placing at the National High School Mathematical Contest in Modeling. Math instructional supervisor Radu Toma describes the students as “highly intelligent and intellectually curious, [who] also have the stamina, determination and courage it takes to solve serious real life problems using sophisticated mathematical modeling.” Photo by Alex Hwang.

    Four Palo Alto High School juniors in Advanced Placement BC Calculus will be representing the United States at the International Math Modeling contest this April after their victory in the 17th Annual National High School Mathematical Contest in Modeling last month.

    The juniors, Andrew Lee, Kathryn Li, Allison Zhang and Eric Foster, competed in two events and received an outstanding award for their for their 33 page-long solution to a passenger traffic optimization challenge, according to math instructional supervisor Radu Toma.

    The National High School Mathematical Contest in Modeling is a contest that is held over a 36 hour period all across the nation. According to its website, the contest’s mission is to establish learning environments where mathematical tools are used to investigate, model and explore real issues in the world.

    High schools are given two problem sets, and the teams then set aside 36 hours within a two week period to work on them. Competitors have freedom setting up the parameters of the problem so the problems can therefore have many different correct answers.

    Despite the team’s strong teamwork, victory did not come easily.

    “I was very proud of our thorough research and our model,” Li said. “The question itself was very open-ended, so we needed to make a lot of assumptions. Our model took the longest to make, and it was extremely satisfying to see that the numbers it produced made sense.”

    Li looks forward to the international competition.

    “For the [international competition], our goals are just to try to find a novel way to use math to solve an everyday problem,” Li said. “We also want to learn about different types of mathematical modeling and use them to help us solve problems.”

    The international contest will be at Paly in a math room yet to be determined, according to Lee, who added that competing teams will choose five consecutive days to compete between mid-April and mid-June.

    The team has chosen to compete from April 19 to 23.

    “We will try our best and be happy with the outcome,” Zhang said. “It’s already a great honor to be selected to represent the United States in the international competition.”

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