2011/2012 Vacation Research Scholars

AMSI’s vacation scholars students present their work at CSIRO’s Big Day In held at Macquarie University


While many flocked to the beach this summer, AMSI’s vacation scholars were getting a taste of what it’s like doing mathematics and statistics research.

22 intending honours students from around Australia were awarded scholarships to complete a 6-week project under the guidance of a supervisor at their home institution. At the end of the summer, the students travelled to Macquarie University to present their work at CSIRO’s Big Day In.

Megan Farquhar, Queensland University of Technology, had her chair in an upright position over the summer while she investigated different methods of boarding a passenger aircraft.

Megan used MATLAB to compare six different ways to board a 737. Total boarding time depends on the passenger interarrival time – the amount of time between one passenger arriving to board the plane and the arrival of the next passenger. For low interarrival times, she found that allowing passengers to board the plane in a random order was one of the fastest methods, but she cautions that this may not be the most effective strategy if a bottleneck develops in the aisle.

“Future work can look at what happens when a luggage compartment is full, what to do when a passenger is running late, and the possibility of multiple door entry”, she said.

Meanwhile, Bradley O’Bree from RMIT University used his project as an opportunity to explore some of the statistics behind his favourite sport, golf. Brad used Bayesian inference to develop a model that classifies professional golfers according to whether or not they are likely qualify for the third round, where half the players get eliminated from the tournament.

Brad’s model uses historical data from professional tournaments to assign players to one of two groups – ‘qualifying’ or ‘non-qualifying’ – and randomly assigns each player a score based on their group’s distribution. After each round, the model updates each player’s score and re-evaluates the probability that they will qualify.

“Classifying players into groups means that we can randomly generate scores that are more relevant to that player”, he said.

This two-group classification system resulted in a large variability between the two scoring distributions, so Brad improved his model by creating an intermediate group that covers the overlap between the qualifying and non-qualifying distributions.

The students enjoyed the experience of conducting a research project and then presenting their work to their peers at the Big Day In.

“The vacation scholarship experience has allowed me to get a taste of how life as a researcher is, allowing me to do the research and follow through with both a report and presentation on it”, Megan said.

“It was great to be able to see all the different areas people are researching in mathematics and to meet with all the other presenters and discuss their research. I found this experience very beneficial and would recommend it to future mathematics students”, Megan said.

The Cambridge University Press book prize for best student talk was awarded to James Kwiecinski, Monash University, for his excellent presentation on unsteady free surface flows.

The vacation scholars’ reports are available from: http://www.amsi.org.au/component/content/article/129-science-events-2011/489-vs11