A 10-page report analyzing the effects that the accumulation of plastic debris has on the Pacific Ocean earned three Lawrence University students “Outstanding Winner” honors in a recently completed international interdisciplinary modeling contest.

Lu Yu, a junior from Guangzhou, China, sophomore Fangzhou Qiu from Shanghai, China, and Jian Gong, a sophomore from Chengdu, China, co-authored one of four reports that was designated as an outstanding winner from among 356 entries in the 12th annual Interdisciplinary Contest in Modeling (ICM) conducted by the Consortium for Mathematics and Its Applications (COMAP).

Lawrence was one of only two U.S. colleges designated an outstanding winner among the four. Foreign teams, primarily from China, Indonesia and Malaysia, accounted for 333 of the competition’s 356 entries.

Working in teams of three, students had five days to research, analyze, model and communicate a solution to the problem. In their report, the Lawrence team modeled the environmental impact of plastic debris in the ocean and how this impact varies with time, particle size and other factors.

“Their report was a tour de force drawn from multiple disciplines — mathematics, physical oceanography and chemistry among them,” said Stefan Debbert, assistant professor of chemistry, who served as the faculty advisor for the project. “It gave concrete advice as to how we can better protect our oceans.”

The analysis written by Yu, Qiu and Gong will be published later this year in The UMAP Journal, along with commentaries from the problem author and contest judges.

Joining Lawrence as the contest’s four outstanding winners were Carroll College in Helena, Mont., and China’s Jiaotong and Dianzi universities.

Based in Bedford, Mass., COMAP is a non-profit organization focused on improving mathematics education for students of all ages. Since 1980, it has created learning environments where mathematics is used to investigate and model real world issues.