Mathematical Contest in Modeling, 2006

The event

The Mathematical Contest in Modeling is an annual event, sponsored by the Consortium for Mathematics and Its Applications, in which students at colleges and universities all over the world are asked to develop and analyze mathematical models of open-ended, practical problems for which no direct solutions are known. Participants work in teams of three and are permitted to use libraries, computers, and other inanimate sources of knowledge and inspiration. The organizers of the contest propose three problems; over the four days of the contest, each team selects one of these problems, designs, implements, and analyzes a model, and writes a substantial report presenting its results.

The twenty-second Mathematical Contest in Modeling was held on February 2-6, 2006. Grinnell fielded two teams this year:

The problems

Here are the problems that COMAP posed this year. Both of our teams chose to work on problem A.

Problem A: Positioning and Moving Sprinkler Systems for Irrigation

There are a wide variety of techniques available for irrigating a field. The technologies range from advanced drip systems to periodic flooding. One of the systems that is used on smaller ranches is the use of hand move irrigation systems. Lightweight aluminum pipes with sprinkler heads are put in place across fields, and they are moved by hand at periodic intervals to insure that the whole field receives an adequate amount of water. This type of irrigation system is cheaper and easier to maintain than other systems. It is also flexible, allowing for use on a wide variety of fields and crops. The disadvantage is that it requires a great deal of time and effort to move and set up the equipment at regular intervals.

Given that this type of irrigation system is to be used, how can it be configured to minimize the amount of time required to irrigate a field that is 80 meters by 30 meters? For this task you are asked to find an algorithm to determine how to irrigate the rectangular field that minimizes the amount of time required by a rancher to maintain the irrigation system. One pipe set is used in the field. You should determine the number of sprinklers and the spacing between sprinklers, and you should find a schedule to move the pipes, including where to move them.

A pipe set consists of a number of pipes that can be connected together in a straight line. Each pipe has a 10 cm inner diameter with rotating spray nozzles that have a 0.6 cm inner diameter. When put together the resulting pipe is 20 meters long. At the water source, the pressure is 420 kilopascals and has a flow rate of 150 liters per minute. No part of the field should receive more than 0.75 cm per hour of water, and each part of the field should receive at least 2 centimeters of water every 4 days. The total amount of water should be applied as uniformly as possible

Problem B: Wheel Chair Access at Airports

One of the frustrations with air travel is the need to fly through multiple airports, and each stop generally requires each traveler to change to a different airplane. This can be especially difficult for people who are not able to easily walk to a different flight's waiting area. One of the ways that an airline can make the transition easier is to provide a wheel chair and an escort to those people who ask for help. It is generally known well in advance which passengers require help, but it is not uncommon to receive notice when a passenger first registers at the airport. In rare instances an airline may not receive notice from a passenger until just prior to landing.

Airlines are under constant pressure to keep their costs down. Wheel chairs wear out and are expensive and require maintenance. There is also a cost for making the escorts available. Moreover, wheel chairs and their escorts must be constantly moved around the airport so that they are available to people when their flight lands. In some large airports the time required to move across the airport is nontrivial. The wheel chairs must be stored somewhere, but space is expensive and severely limited in an airport terminal. Also, wheel chairs left in high traffic areas represent a liability risk as people try to move around them. Finally, one of the biggest costs is the cost of holding a plane if someone must wait for an escort and becomes late for their flight. The latter cost is especially troubling because it can affect the airline's average flight delay which can lead to fewer ticket sales as potential customers may choose to avoid an airline.

Epsilon Airlines has decided to ask a third party to help them obtain a detailed analysis of the issues and costs of keeping and maintaining wheel chairs and escorts available for passengers. The airline needs to find a way to schedule the movement of wheel chairs throughout each day in a cost effective way. They also need to find and define the costs for budget planning in both the short and long term.

Epsilon Airlines has asked your consultant group to put together a bid to help them solve their problem. Your bid should include an overview and analysis of the situation to help them decide if you fully understand their problem. They require a detailed description of an algorithm that you would like to implement which can determine where the escorts and wheel chairs should be and how they should move throughout each day. The goal is to keep the total costs as low as possible. Your bid is one of many that the airline will consider. You must make a strong case as to why your solution is the best and show that it will be able to handle a wide range of airports under a variety of circumstances.

Your bid should also include examples of how the algorithm would work for a large (at least 4 concourses), a medium (at least two concourses), and a small airport (one concourse) under high and low traffic loads. You should determine all potential costs and balance their respective weights. Finally, as populations begin to include a higher percentage of older people who have more time to travel but may require more aid, your report should include projections of potential costs and needs in the future with recommendations to meet future needs.


This year, 748 teams submitted complete entries. 12 of these entries were judged Outstanding; 122 others, Meritorious. 188 received Honorable Mentions in COMAP's report. The remaining 426 teams were classified as Successful Participants.

Both of Grinnell's teams received the Honorable Mention ranking.

This document is available on the World Wide Web as