Thousands of High School Students Look for Solutions to Substance Abuse Using Math

Nearly 4,000 high school juniors and seniors put their heads together recently to find answers to one of the toughest problems in the United States — why and how does substance abuse spread across populations?

As part of the MathWorks Math Modeling (M3) Challenge, those students used mathematics and data to evaluate which individuals are more likely to abuse drugs, as well as the spread of nicotine use because of vaping.

The challenge, organized by the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, gives participants “the opportunity to answer big, open-ended questions using math and to motivate students to pursue studies and careers in applied mathematics and computational science.”

More than 800 teams had 14 hours to evaluate the data and develop solutions. Participants developed a metric to measure and rank the impact of the use of various substances, also taking into account social influences and personal characteristics, as well as characteristics of the drug itself.

The students competed for $100,000 in scholarships. Mathematicians will judge the results in the coming weeks, then six finalists present their solutions in New York City on April 29. Roughly 35 teams will be recognized with scholarship prizes, with the champion team receiving $20,000.

Natick, Mass.-based MathWorks is a mathematical computing software developer.