UW Today

This is an archived article.

April 15, 2010

UW team tracks serial killers to win Mathematical Contest in Modeling

News and Information

A team of UW undergraduates has been declared an Outstanding Winner in the 2010 Mathematical Contest in Modeling, putting them in the top nine out of 2,254 teams.

This is the eighth team from the UW to win this distinction in nine years. (See the previous UWeek article here.)

“When they do it year after year, you start to expect it,” said Selim Tuncel, chair of the Dept. of Mathematics. “But this is an amazing achievement.”

The winning team consisted of Mark Bun, a double major in Mathematics and Computer Science; Jerry Li, who is in the Early Entrance Program; and Ian Zemke, in Mathematics. They won for their answer to the second of three problems — a scenario that could have been a plot from the television show Numb3rs.

The students’ winning paper converts distances to driving times and adds a dose of criminal psychology to try and pinpoint a serial criminal’s home base. They applied their tool to historical cases of the “Yorkshire Ripper” and the “Atlanta Child Murder” and found that in both cases their method would have been able to predict the general location of the killer’s residence.

The UW team faced especially intense competition this year, Tuncel noted. In 2007, the UW claimed two of the 14 top spots from a field of 949 teams. This year the competition drew more than 2,200 teams, of which 84 percent were from outside the United States.

Two other UW teams were named Meritorious Winners, placing among the top 20 percent of all entrants this year.

As in previous years, the team was coached by coached by Jim Morrow, professor in the Department of Mathematics. See our previous UWeek article on Morrow here.

More about the MCM at the UW can be found here.