Challenge Press Release

Aspen Elementary and Los Alamos Middle Students Take First Place in the 26th Annual Supercomputing Challenge

LOS ALAMOS, N.M., April 26, 2016 – Andy Corliss of Aspen Elementary, Max Corliss of Los Alamos Middle, Phillip Ionkov of Aspen Elementary, and Ming Lo of Aspen Elementary won first place for their project, “Solving the Rubik’s Cube 2.0,” on Tuesday at the 26th New Mexico Supercomputing Challenge at Los Alamos National Laboratory. They created a three-dimensional simulation of a Rubik’s cube, a national favorite brain-bending puzzle, as well as an implementation of a cube-solving algorithm. They also won the Most Professional Presentation award for their efforts.

“The goal of the yearlong event is to teach student teams how to use powerful computers to analyze, model and solve real-world problems,” said David Kratzer of Los Alamos’ High Performance Computer Systems group, and executive director of the Supercomputing Challenge. “Participating students improve their understanding of technology by developing skills in scientific inquiry, modeling, computing, communications and teamwork.”

Second place went to Christopher Leap and Nicholas Brown of Portales High School for their project, “Yavanchlan: Creating Optimal Strategies for Artificial Intelligence to Play Against Humans.” They studied techniques to enable efficient computer play of Yavanchlan, a derivative they created of the board game Yavalanchor. They also won the award for Best Report for their high-quality write-up of their work.

Los Alamos Middle student Lillian Petersen won third place for her project, “Detecting Climate Change Through Means and Extremes.” Her study aggregated data from thousands of weather stations around the world, which she processed and analyzed with a Python program she wrote to find overall changes and trends in climate around the world. She also won the Community Impact award for working with the Bradbury Science Museum to make a traveling exhibit that will be shown in museums across the country.

A complete list of all winning student teams is available at the New Mexico Supercomputing Challenge website ( All final student reports are online (

For more than a quarter century the challenge has:

  • Helped state high school graduates go on to succeed at college in STEM areas;
  • improved the information-based economy of New Mexico by promoting computational thinking;
  • increased New Mexico’s international competitiveness in smart manufacturing;
  • helped middle and high school students meet common core standards with academic excellence in math modeling, science and technical writing;
  • and created a culture of collegiality and professional development among the New Mexico educator community.

The Challenge’s positive impact on New Mexico is widely acknowledged. David Williams, a Challenge judge from IBM, said: “I’m really inspired by some of the kids I met today.” Kaley Goatcher of Honeywell said: “The Supercomputing Challenge is a great experience for students to get involved with science, computing, and math before entering college. The event challenges students to change the world, one project at a time.”

The Supercomputing Challenge is open to any New Mexico high school, middle school, or elementary school student. More than 200 students and teachers representing 57 teams from schools around the state spent the school year researching scientific problems, developing sophisticated computer programs, and learning about computer science with mentors from the state’s national laboratories and other organizations. All the finalist teams received plaques for their schools, a large banner suitable for hanging at their schools, and other gifts.

Students and teachers were not the only people in attendance. STEM professionals from Los Alamos National Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratories, universities, and industry from across New Mexico volunteered to be judges, tour guides, presenters, and staff for the event. “I’m so appreciative of the over 130 people who happily volunteered to help out with this program,” said David Kratzer.

Scholarships worth more than $13,000 were awarded at the Supercomputing Challenge Expo. Many other awards were distributed ranging from random $100 gifts for finishing the academic marathon to team prizes for teamwork, programming prowess, and environmental impact.

The Supercomputing Challenge is sponsored by Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos National Security, LLC, the State of New Mexico, and generous industry partners across the country. A complete list of sponsors and supports of the Challenge is on its website.

About the Supercomputing Challenge

Founded in 1990, the New Mexico Supercomputing Challenge is a nonprofit educational organization that sponsors an annual computational science competition for middle- and high-school students in New Mexico.

Since its inception, the Supercomputing Challenge has engaged more than 10,300 New Mexico students in computational science projects that prepare them for future endeavors in many science and high-technology fields. Past participants have succeeded in private industry and national laboratories. Major funding for the Supercomputing Challenge comes from national laboratories, local and national businesses and individual donors.

See a participation map ( for an effective visualization of the statewide program.

About Los Alamos National Laboratory

Los Alamos National Laboratory, a multidisciplinary research institution engaged in strategic science on behalf of national security, is operated by Los Alamos National Security, LLC, a team composed of Bechtel National, the University of California, BWX Technologies, Inc. and URS for the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration.

Los Alamos enhances national security by ensuring the safety and reliability of the U.S. nuclear stockpile, developing technologies to reduce threats from weapons of mass destruction, and solving problems related to energy, environment, infrastructure, health, and global security concerns.