Mathathon 2021 Wrap-up

You might be surprised how much math can be found in a makerspace. Making a table with angled legs and you need to know how long to cut them? Math. Cutting pentagons for a DIY soccer ball of a known circumference and you need to know how long each side should be? Math. Fitting up gears of differing sizes that still mesh without too much contact pressure? That's right, math. Even in our laziest efforts at making something, one still has to marvel at the mathematical complexity that drives those 3D printers with precision and ease. You can try to resist, but you're going to have a hard time producing anything without math, and contrary to popular opinion, the need only amplifies as technology advances.

You may also find it surprising just how much math takes place outside the makerspace, in your own backyard. All those years you spent deriving and applying formulas weren't just an exercise in cruelty, people actually use that knowledge every day. To help reveal and recognize the work these people do, we recruited 14 of the biggest math nerds in Lynchburg to spend 13.1 hours solving as many math problems as they could. Why so long? Because solving difficult math problems takes a certain degree of tenacity, and we know full well that people who have immersed themselves in this discipline have the stamina necessary, and how better to prove it than with a war of attrition against unsolved problems.

So from Friday at 12pm until Saturday at 1:06am, our 14 participants together solved 51 Project Euler problems, with our youngest participant, Dustin, solving problem 100, the hardest of the event. In addition to hosting this endurance event, Vector Space developed original curriculum for K-12 students to get a taste of computational math, we connected with our local schools to work through an example of a difficult math problem, and shared interviews of our participants, your neighbors.

We strived to connect people from various organizations because we know the power this can have for everyone involved. Our problem solvers collectively represented,

  • BWXT: Jonathan Stephens, Robert Martin
  • Framatome: Jesse Hyatt
  • CloudFit: Andrew Castellano
  • CCRi: Jason Thomas
  • U.S. Navy: Dawn Thomas
  • CVCC: Jessica Coco
  • University of Lynchburg: Mike Coco
  • Sweet Briar College: Tomori Buchanan
  • Cornerstone Christian Academy: Dustin Thomas
  • the former Holy Cross: Liz Lyng
  • R.S. Payne Elementary: Tracy Proffitt
  • Vector Space: Adam Spontarelli, Zach Taliaferro

"Tracy and I were on a roll and our next problem included a relatively complex calculation involving a spiral of numbers. My immediate intuition was to develop an algorithm to generate the spiral, then carry out the necessary calculations. Tracy took a completely different approach, looking instead for patterns in the spiral, shortcutting the entire idea of recreating the spiral, and finding the solution in a fraction of the time. One of my favorite things about working with other people is the reminder that there's always a better way."

-Adam Spontarelli

Lynchburg businesses showed their love of math, fueling these big brains with delicious food and coffee from beginning to end. Thanks for the support from Crisp, The Water Dog, MayLynn's Creamery, Mama Crockett's, Golf Park Coffee. And they weren't the only ones, a total of $772 was donated to the cause of promoting math and math outreach.

If you're sad the Mathathon is over, I have good news. We solved problem 19 and I used the code to calculate that there is only 1 first Sunday of the month until the next event. In the meantime, be like Tomori and learn more math.

"I have taken all of the advanced math that SBC offers...I had thought to stop until grad school, but this project makes me want to learn more."
- Tomori Buchanan