When Jenny Lai, Abram Sanderson, Amy Xiong, Lynn Zhang, and Roy Zhao boarded the plane to go back home from New York City, they were $20,000 richer than when they arrived. That’s because the five seniors from Plymouth, Minnesota were chosen as the 2013 Champions for the Moody’s Mega Math Challenge.

The 2013 M3 Challenge winners are from Plymouth, Minnesota, and were awarded $20,000.

The 2013 M3 Challenge winners are from Plymouth, Minnesota, and were awarded $20,000.

The team won first place out of a total 1,054 entries this year and was one of six flown to New York City to compete in the finals. The Moody’s Mega Math Challenge is awarded each year by the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM) and the Moody’s Foundation, which is an offshoot of CEO Ray McDaniels’ Moody’s Corporation.

The competition is open to teams of three to five high school seniors across the nation; anyone can take part. The contest gives students real-world issues and asks them to use mathematics to come up with the best possible solution in just 14 hours. This year’s challenge required students to quantify the nation’s current plastic waste in landfills and suggest the best possible recycling method for U.S. cities to employ. That mathematically based model was then used to recommend nationwide recycling standards.

Competitions like this are able to engage students and spotlight the relevancy of subjects that are often seen as “abstract” to students—like mathematics. The money awarded to teams is a scholarship split between all members. The total prize pool this year was $115,000.

“What stands out the most is what a talented group of young people with mathematical skills can do in 14 hours,” said Kathleen Shannon, who was an M3 judge this year. “Just imagine what they will be able to accomplish with a little more education and a lifetime in which to tackle the problems the world faces.”

Second place this year was awarded to a team from the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, which included team members Jeffrey An, Dayton Ellwanger, Christie Jiang, and Anne Kelley. The team will split a $15,000 scholarship prize.

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