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PAPER OR PLASTIC?

Moody's Mega Math Challenge checks in on U.S. Recycling

MARCH 6, 2013

PHILADELPHIA, March 6, 2013 -- Every five seconds, Americans use 60,000 plastic bags and consume 2,000 bottled drinks (SIERRA), an ecological concern on many minds, including thousands of high school juniors and seniors--5,809 across 29 states--who spent last weekend devising methods to quantify and manage this waste.

The impetus for this high-minded task is Moody's Mega Math Challenge, an Internet-based applied math contest organized by the Pennsylvania-based Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM). The goal: to spotlight the relevancy and power of mathematics in solving real-world issues and inspire students to pursue careers in STEM-related fields. The contest's topic is especially relevant this year as 2013 has been designated the International Year of Mathematics of Planet Earth (MPE).

As part of the MPE initiative, more than 100 scientific societies, universities, research institutes, and organizations worldwide have joined forces to identify and solve fundamental questions about planet Earth, encourage educators to communicate the issues related to it, and inform the public about the essential role of the mathematical sciences in facing the challenges to our planet. The Mega Math Challenge is Moody's version of "think globally, act locally."

During Challenge weekend, students were given just 14 hours to work in teams of 3-5 to solve the problem. Each group had to quantify the plastic waste filling our nation's landfills, come up with the best recycling methods for U.S. cities to implement based on their demographics, and recommend guidelines for nationwide recycling standards. Between now and April 8, judges will analyze each entry, seeking inventive problem-solving approaches and perspectives using mathematical tools. The top six teams will be invited to Moody's corporate headquarters in Manhattan on April 29 to present and defend their solutions to a live panel of professional applied mathematician judges. Another 49 teams will be designated as semi-finalists or honorable mentions.

For Challenge participants, more than the fate of the country's environmental state is at stake; $115,000 in scholarship prizes will be presented to winning teams by the Challenge sponsor, The Moody's Foundation.

"We see the Challenge as a great way to make math and science relevant and engaging," said Michelle Montgomery, M3 Challenge Project Director for SIAM. "Like the TBS hits Big Bang Theory and King of the Nerds, the Challenge shows it's cool to have math and science smarts or be a self-proclaimed "nerd," and truly captures the spirit and depth of applied mathematics."

When the Challenge launched in 2006, high school participation was limited to the New York Metropolitan Area. Today, 29 states are eligible, and Moody's anticipates expanding to a national footprint by 2016. This year, New York and New Jersey were the states with the most teams registered (164 and 141, respectively), while Florida had 124 participating teams and PA had 99. Of the 1,279 teams registered (from public and private schools), 3,881 of the students are male and 1,928 female. Overcoming this gender gap, and compelling more young women to pursue math-based careers, is one of Moody's, SIAM's--and the Challenge's--greater goals.

 

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