Teens use math to kill zombies
Just how hard is it to organize snow removal in a major city? Or build a championship winning team? Or escape a zombie apocalypse?
Turns out, they’re all pretty complicated. But not so difficult that a clever group of high school students can’t figure them out using only math, logic and their own innate creativity.
These are the kinds of conundrums that will be posed at this weekend’s Operations Research Challenge (TORCH) at Concordia University, a one-day competition between teams of high school students tasked with coming up with solutions to real world (and not so real world) dilemmas.
Organized by Dr. Daria Terekhov, an assistant professor of Industrial Engineering in the Department of Mechanical, Industrial and Aerospace Engineering at Concordia University, TORCH is designed to introduce participants to the field of operations research, a multidisciplinary field that uses techniques from mathematics, computer science and engineering to solve complex decision-making problems.
While still little known, operations research is all around us. It is used in everything from planning mass transit routes to setting up telecommunications networks to managing waterways to staffing the right personnel in key positions. The goal is to introduce operations research as a possible field of study once they have achieved their high school diplomas.
“A lot of problems in daily life can be viewed and solved via operations research,” says Prof. Terekhov. “If you’re scheduling a train or a metro, or looking for the best way to respond to a transit system breakdown, you’re using operations research. A lot of people don’t know about it, but it’s very powerful.”
Seeing answers everywhere
But let’s face it: some problems will stimulate the imaginations of young minds more than others. That’s why Prof. Terekhov and her team of operations research students come up with questions that, while posing real challenges, are styled to be both fun and engaging.
“We try to think about video games or movies, things that are more like a fantasy setting,” she says. “Last year, for instance, one of the questions was set in the world of the Hunger Games. Should Katniss Everdeen pick up certain items, each with its own size and weight value, and put it in her backpack, which can only hold a certain capacity? It’s a classic knapsack problem. The students don’t know what a knapsack problem is, but they are excited to help the protagonist of the Hunger Games solve problems.
“The idea is to empower them, to get them to think that they can solve problems,” she continues. “One side of TORCH is exposing them to real problems we encounter in real life, such as an STM delay or walking down a street that hasn’t been cleared of snow. The other side is making those problems fun and exposing the students to something cool.”
The second annual Concordia TORCH takes place on Saturday, March 17 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. in the Henry F. Hall Building (1455 de Maisonneuve W.). For more information or to register to take part, please visit www.orchallenge.org.
To speak with Prof. Terekhov, call 848-2424 ext. 3141 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Student participants and TORCH 2018 co-presidents Carlos Zetina and Gabriel Vanasse will also be on hand to answer questions.
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