WPI Students Keep Track of Marathoners

Contact: WPI Media Relations, 508-831-5616

WORCESTER, Mass. -- The 100th running of the Boston Marathon on April 15 is destined to be memorable for runners and spectators alike. But in the midst of all the hype and the hustle are some real challenges for race planners and organizers. The number of entrants could exceed 40,000 a fourfold increase in the number who historically make the run and, at certain times during the race, as many as 350 runners could be crossing the finish line.

A computer simulation model recently completed by WPI juniors Kevin Ciszewski of Greenfield, Mass., Timothy Caldwell of Dover-Foxcroft, Maine, and Joseph Danubio of Pembroke, Mass., is being used this year to help workers plan for processing everyone who completes the race and requires medical care. The project will be featured on WBZ-TV, Channel 4 on Thursday, April 4, during the 6 p.m. newscast.

"The conclusion of this study represents the cornerstone for the medical care plan for the 100th Boston Marathon," says Dr. Marvin Adner, medical director for the race. Adner, chief of hematology at MetroWest Medical Center in Framingham, Mass., is responsible for planning all of the medical support for the race. Last spring, he approached WPI's Management Department with a request for a computer simulation study to help the Planning Committee prepare for the centennial.

"The finish line for the Boston Marathon is like a funnel and is not conducive to easy dispersement of the finishers," says Francis Noonan, associate professor of management, who was the students' faculty advisor, along with mechanical engineering Professor Brian Savilonis. "This marathon historically incurs a higher percentage of casualty rates than other marathons either because of the nature of the course or the fact that many runners elevate the status of Boston to a higher level than other races and are thus more likely to push themselves beyond their physical capabilities."

For their computer model, the students input data was based on assumptions about the total number of runners across a discrete range of finish times; staffing levels for the various categories of the race (including the number of available medical support personnel); weather conditions; and casualty rates for each type of injury.

"The resulting model predicts that up to 1,000 cots should be available in the three medical tents and that the medical team will need to stock about 850 intravenous lines," says Noonan. "We also have provided information to Dr. Adner on the number of medical support volunteers he will need to call upon to assist finishers who require medical attention."

Ciszewski,. Caldwell and Danubio will be present on the day of the race to measure how well their model predicted the actual outcomes. The students completed their research and computer model as their Interactive Qualifying Project. The IQP is one of three projects all underrgraduates undertake as part of the innovative WPI Plan, a flexible, exciting and academically challenging program introduced in 1971. Under the Plan, students are provided with unique opportunities for integrating classroom studies with preprofessional academic projects conducted on campus or at companies, agencies and project sites in the U.S. and abroad. The purpose of the IQP is to make students aware of their responsibilities to manage technology effectively and ethically.

Ciszewski and Caldwell are chemical engineering majors; Danubio is majoring in civil engineering. All three are members of the cross-country and track teams and Caldwell and Danubio are also members of the Christian Bible Fellowship.

Worcester Polytechnic Institute is an independent, technological university founded in 1865.