October 29, 2009

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By Sam Alcorn

LEWISBURG, Pa. — It's called the "Battle of the Brains."

And Bucknell University is sending three teams of three students each to compete in November at the regional intercollegiate competition being held at Wilkes University in northeastern Pennsylvania.

The Bucknell computer science teams will be going up against Bryn Mawr College, La Salle University, Lafayette College, Lehigh University and Saint Joseph's University, to name a few of the regional contenders.

The stakes are high. In February, 100 regional champions from 90 countries on six continents will head to the finals in Harbin, China, where the best and brightest information technology students will compete for scholarships, prizes and bragging rights to the "world's smartest trophy." Harbin is home to Harbin Engineering University, this year's host campus.

34th annual competition
It's all part of the 34th annual IBM-sponsored Association for Computing Machinery International Collegiate Programming Contest. Tens of thousands of students are expected to participate. Last year, 7,100 teams competed in the "Battle of the Brains."

Here's how the contest works: Each team of three students is challenged to use their programming skills and mental endurance to solve eight or more complex, real world problems under a grueling five-hour deadline.

"Tackling these problems is the equivalent to completing a semester's worth of computer programming in one afternoon," the sponsor said in pre-event publicity material. "Huddled around a single computer, competitors race against the clock as teammates collaborate to rank the difficulty of the problems, deduce the requirements, design test beds and build software systems that solve the problems."

For well-versed computer science students, some of the problems require precision only. Others require a deep knowledge and understanding of advanced algorithms.

Representing Bucknell
Representing Bucknell this year are:  Nikolas Limpert, Class of '10, Si Thu Latt, Andy Hallagan, Andrew Wong, Christina Lea Garman, Bryan Ward, Thomas Krisch, and Smik Lakhani, all Class of '11, and Aurimas Liutikas, Class of '12.

The team coach is Lea Wittie, assistant professor of computer science, who each spring also hosts an ACM-style contest at Bucknell against neighboring schools in which Bucknell teams have taken first place twice and second place once.

"Bucknell has competed most years in the regional competition," said Wittie. "Recently, we've been competing against graduate and undergraduate teams and we've taken second, third and fifth place at the regional level. We've beat a few graduate teams, which is something to feel very proud of."

A plaque for the second-place finish in 2007 is on display at the entrance of the Dana Engineering Building.

1990s team
In the 1990s, Rick Zaccone, associate professor of computer science, coached a Bucknell team that won the regional competition and traveled to Washington, D.C., for the world finals.

Results from the Nov. 7 competition at Wilkes University are expected to be announced in late November.

The international contest encourages students to create smarter software to make the planet more efficient and intelligent.

"The world faces many daunting problems such as pandemic diseases, climate change, water pollution, food safety, finite energy resources as well as issues with urban management and mass transportation," said Doug Heintzman, director of strategy for the IBM Software Group and sponsorship executive for the international collegiate contest. "At IBM, we believe we have a responsibility to help develop the next generation of technology leaders, help them to understand and tackle these complex business issues."

Contact: Division of Communications