2015 MICS Results

Mark Brodie, Lydia Sinapova and Derek Lyon and 18 students attended the Midwest Instructional Computing Symposium (MICS) on April 10-11. This year’s MICS was held at the University of North Dakota (is that really even in the Midwest?). Despite the best efforts of Minneapolis road construction, rush-hour traffic and snow (!), the 3 vans arrived safely after a 10-hour drive.

In the first session Lydia and Derek gave a tag-team presentation on the undergraduate research in DNA computing which has taken place at Simpson in recent years. Derek explained the intricacies of DNA chemistry to an audience of computer scientists, while Lydia reported the results of student surveys showing which of their skills had been improved by their research experience.

The afternoon featured the poster session, followed by the robotics competition. Ellie Luebbe presented a poster on “Efficient Path Generation to Maximize Data Collection of Multiple Samples using Fluorescence Spectroscopy”. This work was done with Miles Kirts and Eric Marean. Park Mikels presented a poster on “Algorithmic Elimination of Unwanted DNA Hybridization in Complex DNA Mixtures”, co-authored with Geoff Converse and Dakota Spurrier.

Simpson participated in the robotics contest for the first time. In trials the robot performed admirably, but under the pressure of competition it got over-excited and its shot hit the back of the rim. The team of Nate Hayes, Kendra Klocke, Tony Clark, Josh Sutton, Holly Baiotto and Eric Marean worked hard between rounds cajoling, coaxing and coding to get it to improve, but were terminated. Hasta la vista, baby! Although the robot didn’t place, many valuable (and painful) lessons were learned and it was heard saying “I’ll be back” in an ominous tone.

The programming contest took place after dinner and ran for 3 hours. Six Simpson teams entered. The number of teams has increased steadily from two teams in 2010. Programming contests have become an important element of our program – they generate tremendous interest and excitement among students and provide an invaluable opportunity for improving programming and teamwork skills.

The team of Kendra Klocke, Tony Clark and Thomas Klein won 5th place out of 50 teams total, solving 5 out of 7 problems. This was their best finish at MICS. Since Kendra is graduating, Thomas and Tony plan to hold a hackathon to find a new team-member. Applicants should submit their resumes in binary.

The team of Maddie Thomas, Ellie Luebbe and Park Mikels placed 8th, solving 4 problems. This is an excellent performance – it was only their second time at MICS. They have 2 years of eligibility left and gained valuable experience.

The other four teams each solved 2 problems. These teams were: Jacob Williamson, Scott Henry, and Chris Colohan (23rd), Nate Hayes, Jacob Feld and Evan Kimberlin (27th), Teig Loge, Holly Baiotto, and Eric Marean (29th), and Audrey Lovan and Elisa Wildy (30th) . The last 2 teams were competing for the first time. Given that some teams solve no problems at all, this was an impressive result.

The contest finished near midnight. The students were so mentally exhausted that they went to bed immediately and definitely did not stay up until 3am.

The next morning Maddie Thomas presented her paper “Modeling of Linker Stoichiometry for Optimization of DNA Nanostructure Self-Assembly.” The paper described a project done with Esteban Sierra and Blake Tish in Lydia Sinapova’s Algorithms class. The paper was well received and generated a number of questions. Remarkably, Maddie was participating in a rugby tournament in South Dakota the day after MICS! Hopefully rugby won’t damage any of the brain cells needed for programming.

After traveling back by a different route (longer, but with less traffic, it also took about 10 hours), students and faculty returned to Simpson. Everyone had an enjoyable and productive time and expressed a willingness to return (except the robot).

The problems and solutions from the programming contest are available here.

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