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W&J seniors published in mathematics scientific journal

Created: February 9, 2021  |  Last Updated: October 4, 2021  |  Category:   |  Tagged:

WASHINGTON, PA (Feb. 9, 2021)—Washington & Jefferson College (W&J) Seniors Alexas Iams and Hannah Johnston have been published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal “Australasian Journal of Combinatorics”.

The paper, “Searching for quicksand ideals in partially ordered sets,” began as a project in their MTH320 “Junior MathTalks” class with Assistant Professor of Mathematics Robert Muth, Ph.D. last spring. During the summer of 2020, the group expanded on their project and collaborated to provide additional research and context.

Their topic was a pure mathematics problem in the area of ’search optimization,’ where researchers test objects for ‘specialness.’

“Working on this paper with Hannah and Dr. Muth allowed me to experience first hand what it’s like to do mathematical research. I plan on pursuing a graduate degree in mathematics, and this project increased my confidence to continue my mathematics education. I believe that the skills I gained while working on this project will greatly benefit me as I continue my education and later in my career,” Alexas said.

“As a fun application of this theory, we use it to solve a ‘quicksand puzzle’,” Professor Muth explained. “Imagine you’re trying to cross a sandy field, but you’re worried that it might contain an invisible pool of quicksand somewhere within. You have some number of stones in your pocket, and you can test regions of the field to see if they’re stable by chucking a stone into that region.”

Ultimately, Alexas, Hannah, and Professor Muth set out to develop an answer to the question, “How can you quickly yet safely determine the location of the quicksand pool before you’ve used up your stones?”

“I’m very thankful for this opportunity to be published,” Hannah said. “Writing this paper has contributed to my education and experience at W&J by learning to work collaboratively with a team and professionally present research. Being able to communicate research and information effectively is a valuable career skill that will prepare me for my future.”

An illustration of the 'quicksand puzzle'.

Hannah also noted the impact this project and her time at W&J have had on her professional growth.

“W&J has prepared me for my career by providing me with many opportunities, such as this research paper and the chance to attend conferences. Having the ability to play collegiate sports at W&J has also taught me many valuable skills that will allow me to be successful in the workplace,” she said.

 Alexas also talked about the impact her time at W&J has had on her professional sights and experiences.

“The overwhelming support I have received from W&J, especially the math and CIS departments, has been the greatest contributor to my future. I was able to attend conferences with both departments which exposed me to so many people and career options. I was also able to intern with NASA this past summer with two W&J alumni (Kevin Leavor and Charles Hill), which showed me that I can do whatever I set my mind to,” Alexas explained.

Additionally, the work conducted by Professor Muth, Alexas, and Hannah (as well as earlier work done by fellow seniors Daniel Florentino and Ethan Moy) was highlighted recently in an article on 3 Quarks Daily, a science, arts, politics, and philosophy website, where their research was compared to the well-known computer game Minesweeper.


About Washington & Jefferson College

Washington & Jefferson College, located in Washington, Pa., is a selective liberal arts college founded in 1781. Committed to providing each of its students with the highest-quality undergraduate education available, W&J offers a traditional arts and sciences curriculum emphasizing interdisciplinary study and independent study work. For more information about W&J, visit www.washjeff.edu, or call 888-W-AND-JAY.