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ASU students bring home trophy from SUnMaRC math conference


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April 29, 2019

A group of students from Arizona State University brought home the trophy from this year’s Southwest Undergraduate Mathematics Research Conference (SUnMaRC), hosted at the University of Arizona’s Department of Mathematics.

The event gave students a chance to test their mathematics skills. In the Problem Contest, students competed to solve 12 challenging math problems handed out on Saturday morning. ASU’s team worked quickly and were able to wrap up around lunchtime, even though teams had until Sunday morning to submit solutions. The problems were proofs in a variety of subjects, focused on testing creativity rather than raw knowledge.

Similar to the Stanley Cup in hockey, the SUnMaRC traveling trophy goes home with the winning team to proudly display with their school’s name added. The winning team from ASU included Kevin Lough, Sam Tinlin, Kyle Nguyen, Liam Lawson, Megan Gordon, Carly Tinsley, Mari Bray, Charly McCown and Nathan Fischer.

Lawson, a junior majoring in mathematics, won the individual competition. Happy to be recognized, Lawson said, “I've devoted half my life to solving these kinds of problems, and I've made a part-time career out of teaching others to do the same.”

The annual SUnMaRC conference brings undergraduates and faculty together from across the Southwest to present mathematics research in a supportive and fun environment. In addition to ASU and UofA, students attended from Northern Arizona University, Mesa Community College, University of New Mexico, University of New Mexico — Valencia and Colorado State University.

Lawson presented a research talk titled "Almost-Primes Near Factorials." His number theory research, mentored by Professor John Jones, is built around looking for a special class of numbers with relatively few factors.

“I had a great time. Despite how nervous I was, I loved giving my first research presentation. Having a space to mingle with other motivated math students was something I'd really been looking for.”

Other ASU students gave talks: Tinlin shared his research on "New Bounds on the Game Coloring Number," Lough presented his research on "Enumeration Methods and Series Analysis of Self-Avoiding Walks on the Hexagonal Lattice with Applications to Self-organizing Particle Systems," Fischer and Anna Kruse each presented talks on the mathematical modeling of epidemic spreads such as Ebola and malaria and Tinsley gave a talk on "Increasing Surface Area with Origami."

In addition to student talks, there were invited speakers covering a range of mathematics related topics, including NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission at near-Earth asteroid Bennu, transdisciplinary modeling of mosquito-borne diseases, and the science of baseball.

Computational mathematical sciences senior McCown enjoyed her first SUnMaRC conference and gave a talk on Predicting Perceived Odor Intensity, mentored by Professor Sharon Crook. “Presenting my research was great because it taught me some valuable skills and also gave me some closure about the project.”

“It was really cool how in our ASU group, most of us had never met before, but we became pretty good friends by the end of it,” McCown said. “We had inside jokes and laughed a lot.”

McCown enthusiastically recommends for other undergraduates to attend SUnMaRC, whether they are ready to present research or not. “I would especially suggest that early math majors attend to get a taste of what (areas of math) they could work on, and if someone is considering grad school or a research route, this is a great first experience.

“SUnMaRC is more on the casual side, and not very critical, so it is a perfect practice opportunity. It is also great for networking!”

Jones and Associate Professor Carla van de Sande have been shepherding small groups of ASU students to SUnMaRC for the past several years.

“I was happy to see ASU win the trophy this year,” Jones said. “The students were really engaged in all of the activities of the conference, from the problem contest (to) giving and attending talks and meeting students from other schools.”

Next year’s SUnMaRC conference will be hosted by Colorado State University in the spring. ASU math students interested in attending should email Jones or van de Sande.

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