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North aims to divide, conquer

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Can school lunches be nutritious, affordable and appetizing?

Four Columbus North High School students think so.

They’ve solved the so-called “Lunch Crunch,” and are flying to New York City today on an all-expense-paid trip to present their solution to a panel of mathematicians.

Seniors Tushar Chandra, Chris Von Hoene, Brian Pierson, and Byron Zaharako, along with coach Mike Spock, make up one of six teams in the country to be named national finalists in the Moody’s Mega Math Challenge.

Columbus North was one of only four schools in the nation to have two teams recognized in the competition.

Kyung Kim, Radhika Paliwal, Gabriela Peters, Mimansa Verma and Kevin Zhang received honorable mention recognition, meaning their paper was in the top 5 percent of the 1,152 submissions.

The contest is organized by the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematicians and sponsored by the Moody’s Foundation. It is designed to demonstrate how applied mathematics can be a powerful problem-solving skill — this year is school lunches, last year was recycling and before that, the problem was the 12-year drought in the Southwest.

“They’re really applying mathematics to a real-world, real problem,” said Spock, who also is a Columbus North math teacher.

Although Spock is the one who found the contest and helped with registration and preparation, he said he couldn’t help much with the entry.

The students spent 14 hours on March 8 at the high school composing a 20-page paper.

Their coach calls it the “Extreme Home Makeover of mathematics.”

That day — the deadline pressure, the long hours and the advanced skills — will prepare them for finals weeks during college, team members agreed.

Even though Von Hoene was late and missed the first hour or so, and Chandra and Pierson had a philharmonic performance that night, they still managed to pump out an award-winning paper.

Spock knew it was finalist material the first time he read it.

“It includes great attention to detail and it includes a lot of different areas,” he said. “The team brought out different strengths in each other.”

They will present that paper to a panel of doctorate-level applied mathematicians at 7 World Trade Center in New York City Monday.

No team member views the first-place prize — and $20,000 in scholarship money to be split among them — out of reach.

“It’s not impossible,” Chandra said. “As long as we’re in the top three, that’s pretty good.”

Although two of the team members have never traveled to New York before and are looking forward to sightseeing, Spock has reminded them it is a business trip first.

The team leaves this morning and will have all day to tour the city. But Monday is a packed schedule of presentations and recognition.

Von Hoene said the experience has taught the team members a great deal about their own abilities — that they have real-world skills that go beyond school exams.

“It’s like, ‘we’re entering the real world now,’ “ he said.

No matter where they place, the team members will get some scholarship money to help them in their future:

Chandra is still finalizing his decision but is likely attending Duke University for applied mathematics and biology.

Pierson plans to attend the Ball State University Honors College to study applied mathematics and computer science.

Zaharako will go to the Rochester Institute of Technology for software engineering.

Von Hoene will attend the Purdue University Honors College for computer science.

“We’ve already won by getting to finals,” Spock said. “Whatever they do, it’s already been amazing.”

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