Nov 012012

Back in February, I participated in the Interdisciplinary Competition in Mathematics (ICM).  The ICM, which is run every year by the Consortium for Mathematics and its Applications, challenges undergraduate students to devise a solution to a single, multifaceted problem.

The 2012 problem focused on dynamic network analysis – using mathematics in an attempt to analyze a network of numerous interconnected nodes, and subsequently drawing a conclusion about the network and its members.  Specifically, the problem asked competitors to analyze a network of 83 employees at a small company.  Each individual was a node in the network, and email communications between the employees comprised the links.  Several “conspirators” had already been identified within the company, and we had to use network analysis to identify other employees that might be participating.

The problem was released February 9 at 8pm, and we had until 8pm the following Monday (72 hours) to come up with a solution. I worked with two seniors (an Operations Research major and a math major who also had some background in network dynamics).  I focused on designing the logical and empirical models for identifying conspirators, the math major built network models to calculate metrics of centrality, and the O.R. major built psychological profiles of conspirators to figure out how they would interact with each other. We were allowed to use whatever resources and programs we could find, and we set our own work schedules.

Our solution was (I think) pretty good.  We received distinction as “Meritorious” participants, placing us among the top 9% of teams who submitted solutions.  None of us had participated in the ICM previously, so we were happy.  The solution itself has some application to the identification of criminals and terrorists, who might communicate within a network that also includes innocent individuals.

The ICM was actually a nice break from the regularity of the school day.  I did spend an entire weekend crunching numbers and programming in the lowest basement of Thayer Hall,  but this is West Point.  I can’t say my other weekends as a plebe were much more exciting.

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