Solving Real World Problems - Clongowes Wood College

Posted: 24th January 2017

The science department was delighted to welcome Professor James Gleeson back to Clongowes on Wednesday last, the 18th of January. Clongowes physics students are once again involved in research projects with the University of Limerick and the department has once again linked up with the Mathematics Applications Consortium for Science and Industry to develop mathematical models for three problems this year. When Professor Gleeson, a world leader in his field, visited Clongowes in October to launch the first phase of the project, he met for two hours with over 30 students from Syntax and Poetry to begin the data collection phase of the work. The students in groups of five were asked to select one of three problems to work on:

  • Optimise the operation of a lift in a multi-storey building.
  • Develop an algorithm to minimise cost for a car fuel refill and for the setting of fuel prices 
in stations.
  • Model the rise in sea levels on the Irish coast due to global warming.

These are real world problems that don’t appear to automatically lend themselves to mathematical analysis, and yet this is what the boys must engage with.

To complete the first phase of the project students worked independently and every Friday night with Mr Stephen O’Hara to decide what variables to analyse, gather the appropriate data and begin the process of constructing their mathematical models. On Wednesday 16th January Professor James Gleeson returned to see what progress had been made since his previous visit and to formally launch the second phase of the project, which will involve the development of the actual mathematical models describing these systems. The Professor spent the time listening, challenging, guiding and inspiring the students, often answering questions with questions to provoke even deeper thinking on the problems. The third and final phase will be the testing of these models with possible re-evaluation and re-testing after which the students will complete a report and make a final presentation in the University of Limerick on the models that they develop.

This project is unique to Clongowes and is a fantastic opportunity for our students to get involved in real world applications and to 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. Professor Gleeson is one of the world’s foremost applied mathematicians and we are deeply grateful for the time and effort he has invested in this project.

Mr Stephen O’Hara

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