Student teams tackle tough maths problems in annual challenge

Students at the University of Sheffield have been sinking their teeth into satisfyingly difficult maths problems as part of our annual challenge for undergraduates.

Students taking part in the SoMaS Challenge

The SoMaS Challenge is run by lecturers in the School of Mathematics and Statistics. It is designed to give students the freedom to explore complex problems, outside the typical structures of lectures and examinations.

Students choose from a number of problems set by mathematicians from the University of Sheffield and beyond. They are encouraged to work in groups on the problems over a couple of weeks, before presenting any complete or partial solutions, conclusions and observations.

Our lecturers then host a celebration event where students can discuss the problems with other teams and the staff who came up with them. Prizes are handed out for the most impressive approaches to the problems.

The challenge puts less of an emphasis on finding a complete, final answer to the problems, but encourages curiosity, creativity and collaboration.

Dr Fionntan Roukema, one of the SoMaS Challenge organisers, said: "In a nutshell, our team challenge aims to energise student learning through inspiration rather than through the necessity for assessment.

"After reflection on student feedback and discussions with colleagues, I felt that our structured degrees do not allow enough opportunity for students to explore and independently research mathematics. So, together with Dr Jayanta Manoharmayum in 2013, I set up the SoMaS Challenge to enabled unstructured, collaborative, research on challenging problems."

This year, 19 teams took part. Previous challenges have included contributions from universities such as Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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