Real World Problems - Clongowes Wood College

Posted: 7th October 2015

Clongowes Wood College SJ

Clongowes physics and applied maths students are again involved in research projects with the University of Limerick. The science department has linked up once again this year with the Mathematics Applications Consortium for Science and Industry to develop mathematical models for real world problems.

Professor James Gleeson, a world leader in his field, visited Clongowes on Tuesday (6th October) to launch the first phase of the project. He met with over 40 students from Syntax and Poetry to introduce the concept of Mathematical Modelling and its power to solve real world problems. The professor gave a fascinating insight into the applications of mathematics in the real world and how it is used to solve problems in all aspects of life. He then introduced this year’s problems to the students who, in groups of five were asked to select one of them to work on:

  • Build a useful mathematical model that could assist ‘searchers’ in planning a useful search for a lost plane feared to have crashed in open water such as the Atlantic, Pacific, Indian, Southern or Arctic Ocean while flying from point A to point B.
  • Lepidoptera is an order of insects that includes gypsy moths and butterflies. Some can cause widespread and costly damage by defoliating trees. Model a lepidoptera population to predict how the population will change over time.
  • In finance the term ‘technical analysis’ is used for methodologies that predict future stock prices based on historical data. However, the efficient market hypothesis states that stock market prices are essentially unpredictable. Which is correct? Any prediction method created must be properly tested and tests for robustness and generality of any models must be developed.

What progress?

Professor Gleeson spent time with each group listening, guiding, challenging, and inspiring the students. In 6 to 8 weeks time he will return to see what progress has been made and to formally launch the second phase of the project, which will involve the development of the actual mathematical models describing these systems. The third and final phase will be the testing of these models with possible re-evaluation and re-testing. The students will then complete a report and make a final presentation in the University of Limerick on the model which they develop.

This project is unique to Clongowes and is a fantastic opportunity for our students to get involved in real world applications and see how problems in science and industry can be dealt with using physics and mathematics. Special thanks must go to Professor James Gleeson, through whom this link has been established, for his extraordinary generosity. Professor Gleeson is one of the world’s foremost applied mathematicians and we are deeply grateful for the time and effort he invests in this project.

Mr Stephen O’Hara

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