Megan Rodriguez ’15 earned the Council on Undergraduate Research Prize by Pi Mu Epsilon, the national mathematics honor society. The prize is award to the most outstanding student research talk at the Mathematical Association of America’s annual MathFest conference. Rodriguez is the first Hood College student to win the award.
Her talk, entitled “Graph Theory Representation and Computational Complexity of Sliding Block Ice Puzzles Inspired by Legend of Zelda,” focused on winning strategies using algorithms for puzzles in video games. The research was originally for her honors thesis work, but she continued it after her project was complete and went on to present at MathFest in August.
“While I was conducting my research my senior year, I had hoped I would be able to present it at some conference after its completion,” said Rodriguez. “However, I hadn’t even considered Mathfest, let alone the 100th celebration of the Mathematical Association of America. It was very exciting to be accepted to speak at such an important conference.”
Rodriguez’ research adviser was James Parson, associate professor of mathematics, who offered general suggestions about what types of math to use and served as a sounding board for her ideas.
“It was her initiative throughout,” he said. “She was really driving the whole thing. She turned the games into real mathematical problems.”
There were approximately 2,500 registered participants at MathFest, and about 80 students from around the country presented in the Pi Mu Epsilon undergraduate research sessions.
Rodriguez was excited to present her research, but she didn’t realize the possibility of an award until her talk was over. With a topic based on video games, she wasn’t sure if there would be broad interest.
“Receiving such an award reaffirmed my belief that mathematical work in any field really is valuable and that mathematics can be applied in fun and strange new ways,” she said.
Over the summer, Rodriguez also created interactive websites where people can go try the puzzles she had studied and see her algorithms in action. The one-block version of the puzzle is here. The multiple-block, or n-block, version of the puzzle is here. To play the games for both, click the play button in the top left corner.
“There are preset puzzles to try out, and I encourage people to look through the code and try to improve it,” she said. “I only ask that they send their code to firstname.lastname@example.org.”
Rodriguez also encouraged those at her talk to go to the sites and see if they could improve her methods.
“She’s a great representative of what Hood is,” said Parson. “She’s one of the brightest students I’ve had at Hood. She has an amazing eye for detail, but she can also see the big picture.”
Rodriguez is currently enjoying her work as a software engineer at iNovex Software Solutions
“I get to apply my mathematics, web development and computer science skills all at the same time,” she said. “The atmosphere of the company is fantastic, and I feel right at home.”