by Valerie Kimble
Pictured, from left to right: SHS teacher and team sponsor Bala Settu, Sohaib Soliman, Carly Nowicki, Omar Soliman, Xinyang Fan, Moaaz Soliman, Mariah Deters and Alan Benalil; kneeling is Squid Dhawan.
SOCORRO, N.M., Jan. 28, 2008 – Socorro High School is fielding two young and enthusiastic teams in the New Mexico Supercomputing Challenge, and their projects are up for evaluation at a regional judging on Saturday, Feb. 16, on the New Mexico Tech campus.
Seniors Omar Soliman and Alan Benalil, joined by sophomores Carly Nowicki and Mariah Deters, will be evaluated on their project, “The Unbeatable Speed Limit.”
Juniors Xinyang Fan, Moaaz Soliman and Sohaib Soliman, and sophomore Siddhartha (Squid) Dhawan, will be judged on their project, “Modeling Explosives.”
School sponsor for the past two years is Bala Settu, the computer science teacher at SHS and a five-year resident of Socorro. Settu has an MS degree from California State University in Sacramento.
Dr. Michael Topliff, director of the Tech Computer Center, serves as a judge and regional coordinator for the Challenge, a year-long, statewide competition for prizes and scholarships which concludes in April with an awards ceremony in Los Alamos.
As an educational sponsor, New Mexico Tech provides three, $2400 scholarships and $9800 in indirect costs, plus free use of campus facilities for the regional judging.
Omar is the Supercomputing Challenge veteran, having competed throughout his high school career.
“I finally get to compete for the senior scholarships,” said Omar, the eldest of the three Soliman brothers, all of whom are Supercomputing Challenge competitors. He is eligible to apply for a one-time $2400 scholarship offered by New Mexico Tech, where his father, Dr. Hamdy Soliman, is an associate professor of computer science. Omar plans to follow in his father’s footsteps as a computer science major in college. He half-smiles, half-grimaces: “I have to go to Tech.”
Younger brothers Sohaib and Moaaz, meanwhile, have taken their elder brother’s lead as Supercomputer competitors: “He said it was fun,” Moaaz said. “Everything I know about (the event) I learned from him.”
Fan, a gregarious youth, quipped that he “was conned into it,” then added, “My friends said last year it was kind of cool.”
All eight team members assembled for a lunchtime visit. Both young women said they joined the effort for the experience. For Nowicki, the opportunity to earn scholarships was another benefit.
“Computers – it’s what’s happening,” said Deters.
Benalil explained that his team’s project uses “the mean value theorem in calculus” and GPS capabilities to track drivers’ speed and other factors, thus freeing up law enforcement officers to monitor more serious infractions. Already, computers monitor drivers for speed limit and stop sign violations and automatically mail drivers a ticket.
“Squid” and company have written a computer program which models explosions in a city environment in an attempt to devise the best way to evacuate people, were such a catastrophe to occur. “We’ll model the explosion on a smaller scale to get real data,” he said, factoring in building materials, city infrastructure, travel patterns and other details.
Supercomputing teams will travel to Glorieta and visit Sandia National Laboratories in March, the latter cited by Settu as one of the best aspects of the competition.
“Not everyone is allowed access to Sandia research areas, with its nuclear reactors and high security areas,” he said. “Overall, the Challenge offers great opportunities for scholarships, and it’s fun at the same time.” The final judging will be held at Los Alamos National Labs on April 21-22, when scientists from around the state will review the projects.
Competition is open to all interested students in grades seven through 12 on a non-selective basis.
The program has no grade point, class enrollment, or computer experience prerequisites. Participants come from public, private, parochial and home schools statewide.
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