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Licking A Problem

Senior Project Has a Sweet Conclusion for Cory Heid ’13

By Doug Goodnough

Something just didn’t add up for Cory Heid.

Heid, one of a dozen or so math students, faculty and graduates from Siena Heights University who attended the largest math meeting in the world in San Diego, Calif., was originally scheduled to do a poster presentation at the January event.

However, upon arrival at the Joint Mathematics Meetings, Heid learned the expectations had multiplied.

“He can’t find himself in the poster session,” said SHU math professor Andrew-David Bjork, who helped organize the trip. “So (Heid) looks at the page where his name is, and they gave him a talk. So in four days he had to prepare a Powerpoint presentation on his senior project to give a talk to a live audience.”

A live presentation involves much more preparation than a poster presentation. However, Heid, who completed his coursework in December, first had a problem to solve: the research on his senior project was not complete.

“It was done, but it wasn’t 100 percent completely done,” Heid said. “I was doing last minute fine-tuning.”

And the topic of his senior project certainly could be called unique.

“It’s ‘How many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop?’” Heid said. “Just like the 70s (television) commercial.”

Cory Heid '13
Cory Heid '13

He had the data, but not the proper tool to organize it. So Heid and the math faculty enlisted the help of a representative from the statistics software company Minitab, who was exhibiting at the conference. The rep agreed to let Heid use the Minitab software to “crunch it out,” Bjork said.

“I maybe finished it five minutes before I was supposed to do it,” Heid said of the last-minute preparations before presenting. “He just nailed it,” Bjork said of Heid’s presentation.

“He did a great job. That was just exciting to us, because none of us saw this coming, and out of nowhere this opportunity knocks. … He was put on the spot, and he delivered.”

Heid’s presentation was a highlight of the conference, which Bjork said was an overall great experience for the SHU contingent.

“We get a lot of technology ideas,” said Bjork of the conference, which had more than 3,000 talks and 7,000 people attend. “A lot of talks focus on what is the newest and latest. There’s a whole bunch of sessions that are just dedicated to ideas in teaching, which as faculty members, we love.”

Bjork was joined by SHU math faculty members Tim Husband and Jeff Kallenbach and students Vijay Caplon, Terri Johnston, Taylor Radtke, Christie Erhart, Alyssa Hoff, Cody Weiss, Kyle Peters and Heid. SHU alum Amanda Mitchell ‘12 also made the trip, which was funded in part by student club allocations, faculty travel grants as well as some additional funding from donors and the University.

“Some of these people had never left the tri-county area, and for two people, it was their first time flying,” Bjork said.

The group rented a house, which made for a “communal” experience, Bjork said.

They had a chance to visit the famous San Diego Zoo and also take in some of the other sites of southern California during the week.

The whole experience is valuable in many different ways,” Bjork said. “There’s a sense of knowing each other, a sense of learning together.”

Bjork also presented the talk, “A final project in a mathematics of games class: create your own new game!” and Hoff, a senior, also had an abstract accepted at the meetings.

Heid, who actually finished his senior project this spring, isn’t finished as a presenter quite yet.

The Minitab representative attended Heid’s presentation and liked it so much, she invited him to present at a math conference in Quebec this summer. He recently received confirmation from the company that his presentation was accepted.

And he certainly “licked” the data collection process of his senior project.

“Originally, I wanted to try to make a mathematical model of licks and try to find the center (of the Tootsie Roll Pop),” Heid said of the data collecting process. “But I couldn’t find any other way to do it other than just get people to do it.”

He and several classmates licked through dozens of lollipops, with Heid applying and measuring several variables such as flavor, body temperature, ph levels of saliva and the force of the lick.

So, how many licks did it take to get to the center?

“My number was 356 (licks),” Heid said. “That was the average we were able to get from people at Siena. I felt pretty confident about how well I did.”

Heid said several other universities such as Harvard and Swarthmore have conducted similar research, and called the results “all over the board” from 140 to more than 2,300 licks.

He said his favorite flavor was pomegranate, and called banana “terrible.”

“I would lick until my tongue was raw,” Heid said.

Bjork said Heid is an example of what impact Siena Heights students can make if given the opportunity.

“I think our results say that our scholars are attractive nationally,” he said. “The things we do aren’t just local. We are relevant in the big picture.”

To learn much more about Cory’s research, statistics, and data analysis during his lollipop project, you can visit his blog entry at the Minitab site.

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