Studying these cells could lead to new treatments for diseases ranging from gastrointestinal disease to diabetes.
In a cyber version of March Madness, MIT finished first among US universities in the world finals of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) International Collegiate Programming Contest in Atlanta last weekend.
The MIT team of Hristo Bojinov of Varna, Bulgaria (a junior in electrical engineering and computer science) and freshmen Daniel Adkins of Baton Rouge and Mihai Badoiu of Bucharest finished fifth overall among 54 universities from 40 countries that competed in the contest. The top finisher was Charles University of Prague in the Czech Republic.
The teams, which advanced to the finals by competing in regional contests, were asked to solve eight problems in five hours. The top six finishers solved six correctly. The tie-breaker was time elapsed in formulating solutions.
The students were required to write, test and debug software programs. The MIT students practiced for the finals by solving problems from previous competitions to become familiar with the contest format and the programming tools.
"We worked on strategies for sharing the computer effectively and for testing our solutions before we submitted them," said Assistant Professor Martin Rinard of the Laboratory for Computer Science (LCS), who coached the MIT team. Unlike many of the teams, MIT students work in tandem, with one typing answers while the other searched for tricks in the problems. Teamwork was essential.
Mr. Adkins, who competed in the world finals as a member of the Louisiana State University team while in high school, said he and his teammates were exhausted after five hours of intense concentration but pleased with their effort. "It was a really difficult contest with stiff competition," he said. "We did really great."
"I really wanted us to win the contest, not just be US champions," said Mr. Bojinov. "But I was happy because all of the top teams had the same number of solved problems -- it was only a matter of time. If we had finished one of the problems earlier, we would have been first."
Professor Rinard was pleased with his team's effort and the overall experience. "The organizers of the contest arranged to have all of the teams go out to a theme park with several race tracks for small go-carts and a bunch of video games," he said. "The team members had a great time driving the go-carts, especially Mihai, who had never driven before. I had a great time watching them."
Following MIT among US schools were the University of California at Berkeley, Duke and Virginia Tech, tied for 11th; Caltech and Texas, 17th; and Case Western and Stanford, 24th.
What's next for the MIT team?
"We prepare for next year," said Professor Rinard, who faces a rebuilding year. As two-time contestants, both Mr. Adkins and Mr. Badoin have exhausted their ACM competition eligibility. Mr. Adkins, who competed against Mr. Badoin in the Internationals Olympiad for Informatics before coming to MIT, previously won two titles in the US Computing Olympiad.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on March 4, 1998.