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Jan Kommandeur Prize winner: the maths of shuffling cards

26 March 2015

The winner of the Jan Kommandeur Prize for the best secondary school profile assignment in a Nature subject cluster was announced on 27 March. Aron van Harten from Vathorst College in Amersfoort won the prize for his assignment on the best way to shuffle playing cards.

The prizewinners | Photo Science LinX | Elco van der Meer
The prizewinners | Photo Science LinX | Elco van der Meer

In his assignment Tackling Shuffling Sequences, Aron combined a passion for mathematics with a passion for cards. He wanted to know the best way to shuffle cards, so he calculated their theoretical distribution after shuffling. He also conducted experiments in which different test subjects shuffled the cards in different ways.

World Series of Poker

Aron used different combinations of four shuffle techniques (riffle shuffle, overhand shuffle, pile shuffle and box) plus the cut. He studied 350 combinations in total. The most effective was ‘Cut, Riffle, Riffle, Riffle’. What was surprising was that the combination used in the World Series of Poker ( Riffle , Riffle, Box, Riffle) only came 112th in his list.

The assignment earned the praise of the jury: ‘Aron has written a compact but thorough report in good English. He came up with a good problem definition and developed a clear criterion to choose the best solution. Although the jury considers it is a shame that he did not discuss his solution further, overall he tackled and documented the assignment very well. A well-deserved winner.’

Donor liver

Second prize went to Thom Nijboer and Christiaan van den Berg from Maartenscollege (Haren) for their Survival of the Strongest. They researched whether the muscle mass of donor liver recipients affects their chances of survival. Thorough statistical analysis showed that a greater muscle mass increased the chance by 20 percent.

Third prize went to Re-entry by Fabio Kerstens and Koen de Vos (Norbertuscollege, Roosendaal). They studied the re-entry of space shuttles in the atmosphere. They used computer simulations and tested scale models in a wind tunnel.

Audience prize

The audience prize went to Casper Farret Jentink and Lennan Bleeker from Maartenscollege (Haren). They researched whether the conducting polymer polyanniline is resistant to gamma and beta radiation. If that proves to be the case, this could be used in space travel. They irradiated samples themselves at the UMCG. Analysis of the effects showed that the radiation did not harm the molecules.

The winners of the jury prizes will attend the International Conference of Young Scientists (ICYS) to be held in Izmir, Turkey this year from 19 to 25 April. The overall winner also receives EUR 200 prize money, and the winners of the second and third prizes EUR 150 and EUR 100.

A total of 75 profile assignments were submitted to the Science Support Desk of the University of Groningen. The jury drew up a shortlist of five finalists and chose the three winning assignments from these. Alongside the winners of the Jan Kommandeur Prize, the winners of the Marie Loke Prize (Humanities Support Desk) and the Jan Pen Prize (Social Sciences Support Desk) were also announced. This was the tenth time that the University of Groningen has awarded prizes for secondary-school assignments in the Natural Sciences, the Arts and the Social Sciences.

Last modified:08 September 2020 3.40 p.m.
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