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News Release

Jacobs School Students to Compete in Battle of the Brains in Stockholm

Battle of the Brains 2009
Team Berg “meaning rock in Swedish” from left to right
Eric Levine, Elliott Slaughter and David Michon.

San Diego, CA, April 13, 2009 -- Three Jacobs School of Engineering students from UC San Diego will join the next generation of elite problem solvers and compete in the IBM-sponsored “Battle of the Brains” World Finals contest in Stockholm, Sweden, April 18-22.

Dave Michon, a freshman at Sixth College; Elliot Slaughter, a sophomore at Earl Warren college; and Eric Levine, a junior at Earl Warren College will join about 100 teams to compete for the “world’s smartest trophy.” 

The 33rd annual “Battle of the Brains” competition, also known as the ACM (Association for Computing Machinery) International Collegiate Programming Contest (ICPC), challenges three-person teams to use their programming skills and mental endurance to solve complex, real-world problems in five hours. The team solving the most problems correctly in the least time will emerge as the international champion, earning scholarships and IBM awards.

 7,109 teams, representing 1,838 universities from around the globe, participated in the regional competitions last fall. The top 100 teams have qualified to compete in Stockholm. UC San Diego is one of only 21 U.S. universities that earned the opportunity to compete.

Michon, Slaughter and Levine are competing as Team “Berg” (meaning rock in Swedish), under the coaching of Michael Vrable and William Matthews, both graduate students at the Jacobs School of Engineering. Geoff Voelker, associate professor of Computer Science and Engineering, also is helping to coach the team.

Although Team Berg placed second in the regional competition to California Institute of Technology out of 71 teams, they didn’t think they would make it to the World Finals. “I didn’t think we would go to Stockholm,” Michon said. “I received an e-mail months later saying that our team was one of the top 100 and that we would be attending the finals. That was a good day.”

The students faced the possibility of not being able to attend for lack of travel funds. However, UC San Diego computer science alumnus Taner Halicioglu (B.S. '96) provided the funding for the three undergraduate students and two coaches to attend the competition in Stockholm.

“Exercises like computer programming contests are important because they get you to really think on your toes …do something new … approach the problem in a new way,” said Halicioglu, the fourth person to be hired by Facebook, the now much larger social networking giant.

Levine said he and his teammates are excited and nervous. “I've never been to Sweden, so that alone excites me,” he said. “Also, the opportunity to test ourselves against the most capable college-aged programmers in the world is something not many people get to experience. It should be fun.”

Both Matthews and Vrable were a part of UC San Diego’s 2005 “Battle of the Brains” World Finals team that competed in Shanghai, China. “It was definitely exciting to be able to compete at the World Finals,” Vrable said. “This year is the first time since then that UC San Diego sent a team to the World Finals. It’s a great feeling to be able to help the students have such a thrilling experience.”

Voelker said the students and grad coaches have been extremely dedicated to the competition. “Leading up to the World Finals we have been holding two-hour teaching sessions (with homework) every week for the past six weeks,” he said. “And we will have two five-hour practice contests just before we go to Sweden.”

The students on Team Berg have learned how to solve complex problems quickly, and establish camaraderie as a team, said Vrable.

One of the objectives of the competition is to celebrate the next generation of elite problem solvers around the world, according to Doug Heintzman Director of Strategy at IBM Software Group, and Sponsorship Executive of the ICPC. “All the really big problems will require very creative solutions,” he said. “We have to figure out how to better use our finite resources. We are going to need bright, creative problem solvers to innovate our way out of the mess we are in.”



Media Contacts

Daniel Kane
Jacobs School of Engineering

Christine Clark
UCSD Communications