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Texas State Professors Mentor Award-Winning Research

Eugene Curtin 

Professor of mathematics Eugene Curtin explains a math theorem during the 2013 Mathworks summer math program

October 22, 2013 - San Marcos, TX
Math and science professors at Texas State University continue a strong tradition of mentoring award-winning research.  The results of the prestigious Siemens Competition in Math, Science, and Technology were announced by the Siemens Foundation on Friday, October 18.  Five research projects conducted during Texas State University's Mathworks summer math program, the Honors Summer Math Camp (HSMC), were recognized with awards.  This year's Competition included more than 1,590 entries from across the nation.  The professors mentored teams of high school students during the 2013 HSMC, a program conducted annually by the Mathworks center at the University.  To date, more than 15 Texas State professors have been involved in mentoring research projects through the HSMC program.  Texas State University has helped to produce 60 regional finalists in the Siemens Competition, more than any other school in the state.  The five research papers recognized in this year's Competition were:
Semifinalist teams:
  1. "Generating Molecular Solubility Predictors Using Quantitative Structure Activity Relationships" by Justin Zhang, Amber Guo, and Angela Feng.  Mentored by Carl Fisher and Eumi Pyun of the 3M company.
  2. "A Game of Tri: A Graph Theoretic Generalization of Hex" by Leslie Tu, Selcen Yuksel, and Michaela Taylor-Williams.  Mentored by Eugene Curtin of the Texas State math department.
  3. "On the synthesis and predictive modeling of stable pigments utilizing silica extracted from rice husk biowastes" by Susan Xu, Lily Xu, and Caroline Gao.  Mentored by Luyi Sun of the University of Connecticut, formerly of Texas State.
Regional Finalist teams:
  1. "Maximizing The Number Of K-Sets" by Wei Wei Chen, Jessica Yu, and Patrick Guo.  Mentored by Edward Early of St. Edward's University.
  2. "A Characterization of Balance in Oriented Hypernetworks via Generalized Signed Walks" by Vinci Chen, Alex Yang, and Angie Rao.  Mentored by Lucas Rusnak of the Texas State math department.
The Siemens Competition is a nation-wide contest for high school students to submit original research projects in science, engineering, technology, and mathematics (STEM).  It is also one of the few research contests that includes a team division, allowing teams of up to three students to submit their work.  For the past 13 years, Mathworks has connected young students with professors to discover new math theorems, create new computer algorithms, devise better models for engineering, and advance the boundaries of knowledge.  The two regional finalist teams will advance to the regional level of the Competition, competing at the University of Texas at Austin's campus, alongside other regional finalist teams from across the country.
The research mentors suggest topics to investigate and have the students explore and come up with their own discoveries.  The professors help to spark and sustain a sense of wonder and inquiry in the students.  Professor of Mathematics Eugene Curtin notes, "I emphasize the learning and research process and emphasize the importance of enthusiasm for the subject and the specific questions under investigation. Many of the problems have had both a computational and a theoretical aspect, and I have been very impressed with the progress made into difficult questions. The results of the projects have always raised topics for further study and investigation. I have been very impressed with the persistence and hard work that the students exhibit, and I believe this has shown in their results."  Curtin's team will be sharing their research at a Discrete Math Seminar at Texas State on November 1st, Friday.
In addition to proving new theorems and advancing fundamental knowledge, the mentors help the students translate their work into real-world applications, such as applying math models to improve networks, something that has risen to vast importance in today's Internet-connected world. Lecturer of Mathematics Lucas Rusnak explains his team's work: "The students successfully identified and characterized a specific optimal ground state in a generalized hypernetwork, allowing for more efficient and reliable transmission of data.  Think of yourself working on a group project in an office where a certain number of people may not get along.  Determining how to divide the office into smaller groups that work well together is already a difficult problem.  Suppose we also allow for overlapping of group assignments, and we require that certain group members must talk to other members not in their group.  At first glance, it would seem that this set-up would have very little productivity.  Surprisingly, this set-up will yield faster results in certain cases."  Rusnak's team will be competing in the regional level of the Competition the weekend of November 8th, sharing their mathematical analysis of networks with the public.
Over the past 13 years, Mathworks has had 137 semifinalists or above in the Siemens Competition.  This includes 60 regional finalists and 14 national finalists.  In 2009, a team of three Mathworks students won first place overall, sharing a $100,000 college scholarship. 

Mathworks is a center for innovation in mathematics education at Texas State University. Our mission is to develop model programs and self-sustaining learning communities that engage Texas K-12 students from all backgrounds in doing mathematics at a high level.  Mathworks programs raise mathematics achievement for all students, while developing future leaders in science, engineering, and mathematics.