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2010 News Releases

Longwood team earns high ranking in international math contest

May 3, 2010

Students Nikole Varhegyi, Daniel Honey (center) and Yuri Calustro were members of a Longwood team that received a high ranking in an international math contest Students Nikole Varhegyi, Daniel Honey (center) and Yuri Calustro were members of a Longwood team that received a high ranking in an international math contest

A Longwood University team of three undergraduates recently received the second highest of five designations in an international contest in mathematical modeling.

The Meritorious ranking by the team of seniors Yuri Calustro and Daniel Honey and junior Nikole Varhegyi was achieved by only 19 percent of the 2,254 teams from 14 countries that participated in the 26th annual Mathematical Contest in Modeling by the Consortium for Mathematics and Its Applications (COMAP) from Feb. 18-22. The highest ranking in the contest, Outstanding/Finalist, is achieved by only one percent of the teams. This was the first time that a Longwood team has earned a Meritorious designation in the five years the university has competed in the contest.

"This is a fantastic result," said the team's adviser, Dr. M. Leigh Lunsford, associate professor of mathematics. "Our students began training for this contest in fall 2009, and this is a testament to their hard work and talent. The Meritorious designation places our Longwood team in the top 20 percent of all teams worldwide, alongside teams from schools such as Harvard, Duke, MIT, Cornell, and the U.S. Military Academy."

In the COMAP contest, held from 8 p.m. on a Thursday until 8 p.m. the following Monday, teams of up to three undergraduates are asked to research, model, and submit a solution to one of two modeling problems. The Longwood squad chose a problem in which they were asked to explain the "sweet spot" on a baseball bat.

"Every hitter knows that there is a spot on the fat part of a baseball bat where maximum power is transferred to the ball when hit," the problem begins. "Why isn't this spot at the end of the bat? A simple explanation based on torque might seem to identify the end of the bat as the sweet spot, but this is known to be empirically incorrect. Develop a model that helps explain this empirical finding."

"The contest is intense and a lot of work - you pull several all-nighters and sleep when you have to - but also a lot of fun and a great opportunity," said Honey. "We did our work in the Psychology Department lounge in Ruffer, while the other teams were in other lounges, and the library lent us whiteboards to do our work.

"The contest involves more than just math," he added. "We approached our problem from a design perspective. COMAP is supposed to teach you how to model a problem. Teams usually have two people from math and one from computer science. Yuri and Nikole are both strong mathematicians. Our skill sets were a really good fit."

The Calustro-Honey-Varhegyi team was invited to give a talk on their solution at the spring meeting of the Maryland-District of Columbia-Virginia section of the Mathematical Association of America (MAA), held April 16-17 at Virginia State University. They were one of only five teams from this MAA section that achieved Meritorious designation in the COMAP contest. Calustro and Varhegyi presented a talk, "To the Bat-Swing: An Impulsive Approach," while Honey was unable to attend because the same weekend he was presenting a research paper, "Measuring Time Complexity of PRAM Implementations," at the 24th National Conference in Undergraduate Research, held at the University of Montana.

Calustro, from Arlington, is majoring in mathematics and minoring in economics. He is president of the Math Club and senior class treasurer, and he will give the invocation at commencement May 8. He will study economics in graduate school beginning this fall at either George Mason University or George Washington University.

Honey, a computer science major from Fairfax, is a member of Longwood's chapter of the Association of Computing Machines, and he ran cross country his first two years. He will study computer science in graduate school at the College of William & Mary beginning this fall. He was the only member of the Meritorious team who had competed in COMAP previously. He was a member of a team last year whose problem was to design the most efficient and optimal traffic circle.

Varhegyi, from Waldorf, Md. (to which she moved in 2007 after growing up in Charlottesville), is majoring in math and minoring in computer science. She is a member of the Cormier Honors College for Citizen Scholars, math honor society Pi Mu Epsilon, and the women's rugby team, and she is a desk aide. This summer she will perform an internship at the Air Force Cost Analysis Agency in Arlington.

Two other Longwood teams participated in this year's COMAP. Both earned the designation "Successful Participant," two levels below Meritorious. One team consisted of freshmen Jeff Anway and Sam Wiles and junior Benjamin Ryan, and the other of senior Roger Hopkins, freshman Chris Thatcher and junior Ashley Wilson.

Some 84 percent of the teams that competed in this year's contest were from foreign countries.