2023: Judge Commentary

Judge Commentary

Kelly Black, Ph.D., Department of Mathematics, University of Georgia


The sales and use of e-bikes was the focus of this year’s M3 Challenge. Teams were asked to address three tasks: the first was to estimate e-bike sales two and five years in the future; the second was to estimate the strength of association between different factors and the adoption of e-bikes; and the last task was to estimate how the use of e-bikes impacts carbon emissions, traffic congestion, and health.
Some observations about the teams’ approaches to each task are given in separate sections below. Additionally, some comments about the fundamental nature of mathematical modeling are discussed in a separate section. The topic of this section was prompted by a concern that an increasing number of teams are including sophisticated techniques in their papers to address questions that can be addressed just as well using simpler approaches.

I think it is worth noting that this year’s submissions did not address a factor that impacted the data: supply chain issues resulting from COVID-19 lockdowns. The focus of this year’s problem was to estimate sales of a product over a time span that includes the COVID-19 lockdown, and yet I do not recall any teams that included or noted limitations associated with the supply chain in their paper. The recurring supply chain issues imply that a mathematical model could be broken into two parts, before and after the lockdowns that occurred in 2020. The idea that a model could be separated into two parts represents a key insight that was not addressed by any of the teams (at least none that I know of).

Finally, I wish to thank all the students who took part in M3 Challenge this year as well as all the people who supported them. M3 Challenge is a rare opportunity for students to explore a set of open-ended questions and create, present, and analyze a response that can illuminate and provide insight. To see so many students willingly engage in a challenging endeavor is inspiring, and we are grateful for your efforts and dedication. All of the people who support the teams also inspire and are greatly appreciated. We recognize that all of you are subject to immense pressures and continue to endure difficult demands. Thank you for everything you are doing.