Students in Math Clinic compute answers to real-world problems

Multi-colored graphs, complicated equations and comparative data were explained as only math majors can — in precise detail — as “Math Clinic” students presented findings from a semester’s worth of number crunching.

The class, taught by Associate Professor Stephen Billups, PhD, gave math students an opportunity to develop more efficient algorithms for use in the aerospace industry. United Launch Alliance, an aerospace company based in Centennial, sponsored the problems that Math Clinic students worked to solve this semester. The students delivered their findings in a Department of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences classroom on Dec. 15.

Student Thad Smidt, who has worked as an information technology professional for 10 years, said Math Clinic is “almost exactly” like the real world.

“You encounter the same types of problems with technology, having to work with other people, obstacles and having to present a final product,” Smidt said.

ULA provided the students with characteristics of a problem to be solved, and Billups worked with the students to develop potential algorithms.

“CU Denver operates its math clinic as a research team and focuses on solving real business problems,” Billups said. “United Launch Alliance has given our students the opportunity to collaborate and understand how they can apply their skills in the workforce.”

Zach Richards, ULA optimization engineer and university research manager, said he will take the students’ work back to his firm, where their solutions will be tested. Richards studied math at CU Denver and was a Math Clinic student in spring 2006.

“Math Clinic is very beneficial to ULA because it allows us to think outside the box by reaching out to the university and having the students look at a problem with a fresh perspective,” Richards said. “It allows them to bring forward unique ideas to a problem that is well known and well understood by our engineers.”

Next semester Math Clinic students will work on problems sponsored by Noble Energy, Inc.

(Photo: Erin Reeves, a student in Math Clinic, explains an algorithmic equation that she and fellow students computed to solve problems posed by United Launch Alliance, a Centennial aerospace company.)