Students suggest math competition problem topics that tackle real-world issues

Students suggest math competition problem topics that tackle real-world issues


February 5, 2020

Philadelphia, PA – Mathematical modeling may be the key to predicting political elections, future trends in transportation and mobility, drunk driving accidents, and many more life-changing subjects. Following the most recent MathWorks Math Modeling (M3) Challenge, participating high school students were asked to suggest future Challenge problem ideas. Students offered interesting and timely topics, many with strategies and approaches for solving with math modeling, all of which is considered as we head into M3 Challenge 2020. Registration for this year’s Challenge is free and is open until February 21 at:

The survey polled almost 4,000 students across the U.S. who had just completed the 14-hour M3 Challenge, a national internet-based contest organized by Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM) and sponsored by MathWorks, a Massachusetts-based mathematical computing software company. The immediacy of the survey following the competition undoubtedly contributed to the nearly 1,600 responding students’ insightful suggestions, which ranged from determining the economic benefits of repurposing malls that have gone out of business to using math modeling to examine the timing of traffic lights and pedestrian crossings to decrease highway and intersection traffic during rush hour.

Student-Suggested Problem Topics

The responses offered by M3 Challenge participants demonstrate their breadth of knowledge and interest in math modeling and will help inspire future Challenges. Their ideas will help organizers keep the competition relevant and the students engaged and excited. This simple survey question provides new opportunities to shine a light on what students care about and are passionate about tackling with their mathematical skills. Some suggested problems from the survey include:

  • Drones – project their use in military and technical fields.
  • Small vs. large education programs – use modeling to determine whether programs such as those that are school specific yield better or worse results than large-scale programs such as AP classes and test prep.
  • Location where M3 Challenge teams do their work – make a model predicting the differential achieved by working at a team member’s house versus other potential locations and show the relation between environment and productivity.
  • Fertilizers and pesticides – use modeling to explore their use, which could include prevalence over time and into the future, impact on the environment and on yield.

Past M3 Challenge Problems

M3 Challenge is known for examining real-word issues with math, and the ideas and topics suggested by recent student participants continue that theme. Past Challenges have discussed:

  • Is college worth it? What are the total costs and expected earnings and lifestyles across various career paths?
  • Satisfying the caloric and budgetary requirements of school lunches — can they be nutritious, delicious, and affordable?
  • Plastic waste and recycling — how do you quantify the plastic waste in landfills and what are the best recycling methods for various cities based on relevant variables?

M3 Challenge 2020

Sponsored by MathWorks, M3 Challenge spotlights applied mathematics as a powerful problem-solving tool and a viable, exciting profession, awarding $100,000 in scholarship prizes annually. Additional prizes are awarded to teams submitting (optional) outstanding supporting code.

Registration for this year’s Challenge is free and is open until February 21. Challenge weekend takes place February 28 – March 2, during which teams select any continuous 14-hour time period to work and ultimately upload a solution. A total of 37 teams will receive monetary awards and the Finalist teams will participate in the final event in New York City on April 27, 2020, where the Champion team will be named and awarded the top team prize of $20,000.

Now in its 15th year, M3 Challenge aims to make math relatable and to demonstrate its importance and value in solving complex issues. M3 Challenge is an online contest that has drawn the participation of more than 45,000 students (one third female), 4,000+ high schools, 5,000+ math teachers, and 400+ Ph.D.-level judges, and has awarded more than $1.4 million in scholarships since its launch in 2006.

Register your team by 4:00 p.m. EST on Friday, February 21, 2020. Learn more about M3 Challenge at

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About MathWorks
MathWorks is the leading developer of mathematical computing software. MATLAB, the language of technical computing, is a programming environment for algorithm development, data analysis, visualization, and numeric computation. Simulink is a graphical environment for simulation and Model-Based Design for multidomain dynamic and embedded systems. Engineers and scientists worldwide rely on these product families to accelerate the pace of discovery, innovation, and development in automotive, aerospace, electronics, financial services, biotech-pharmaceutical, and other industries. MATLAB and Simulink are also fundamental teaching and research tools in the world's universities and learning institutions. Founded in 1984, MathWorks employs more than 4,500 people in 16 countries, with headquarters in Natick, Massachusetts, USA. For additional information, visit

About Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics
Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM), headquartered in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is an international society of more than 14,000 individual, academic and corporate members from 85 countries. SIAM helps build cooperation between mathematics and the worlds of science and technology to solve real-world problems through publications, conferences, and communities like chapters, sections and activity groups. Learn more at

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