Local student stars in math competition

South Philly resident Owen Moss helped his school reach the final in an international math competition last month.

On April 5, the Julia R. Masterman Laboratory and Demonstration School on Spring Garden Street was a finalist in the MathWorks Math Modeling (M3) Challenge, a unique competition that drew more than 2,400 11th- and 12th-graders in the U.S. and sixth form students in the U.K. this year.

Moss and his four Masterman teammates, Tobias Beidler-Shenk, Tanay Bennur, Hayden Gold and Ethan Soloway, underwent their final evaluation on April 26 when they presented their findings virtually to a panel of professional mathematicians for final validation.

“We revel in the opportunity to participate in M3 Challenge not merely because of immense applicability and importance of math modeling, nor solely because of the wonderful uniqueness of the competition and its constraints, but because of the very nature of the challenge itself: it is a testament to the ideal of intellectual firepower — that any problem, given enough creativity and strategic thinking, can be solved,” Moss said.

Using mathematical modeling, students had 14 consecutive hours in late February and early March to come up with a solution to a real-world issue: defeating the digital divide to make the internet accessible to all. The M3 Challenge problem asked teams to create a model to predict what internet connectivity will cost over the next decade, how minimum required bandwidth should be determined and an optimal way to distribute cellular nodes in a region to maximize access. A total of 535 teams submitted papers detailing their recommendations.

“The most relevant academic exercise you can offer students is the opportunity to model real-world multidimensional open-ended problems that require ingenuity, mathematical thinking, creativity, teamwork and grit in order to come up with viable solutions,” said Masterman coach Kate Smith, who is also a South Philly resident. “This is what invigorates students intellectually. Every year, my junior team members are eager to return to this competition and develop an even better submission their senior year.”

The top prize was won by Livingston High School in New Jersey, which was awarded $22,500. Prizes were given out to the top three finishers as well as three additional finalists, including Masterman, which won $6,500.