UPPER BURRELL, Pa. – A robot built by a Penn State New Kensington student solved Rubik’s Cube in less than two minutes Feb. 17, at a demonstration during the Mathematical Association of America Math Competition at the campus.

Sean Davis, a junior in the Information Sciences and Technology (IST) program, constructed the robot out of Legos as a project for his math class. Solving Rubik’s Cube involves math algorithms.

“I have always been into robotics,” said Davis, who hails from Huntsville, Alabama. “I thought it would be cool to see if there was a robot that could do it.”

Davis built the robot using Lego Mindstorms, a kit that allows users to create custom robots. He installed MindCuber, a software program that executes the needed moves by distinguishing colors.

“The robot first uses a color sensor to scan the color position on the cube,” said Davis, a graduate of Gow School, a college-prep boarding school outside of Buffalo, New York. “It then uses the results to calculate the least number of moves necessary to solve the cube.”

After one of the high school math students volunteered to scramble Davis’ cube, he put it in the “hands” of the robot. What ensued were the twisting and turning of the cube accompanied by a steady whirl sound, and approximately 100 seconds later, viola! a completed Rubik’s Cube with each of the six faces displaying one of the six colors -- red, orange, yellow, green, blue and white.

Although Davis can create a robot to solve the puzzle, he doesn’t know how to unlock the secret of the cube.

“I have never solved it on my own, which is why the robot is even more impressive to me,” Davis said.

One campus student who does know how to complete the cube is Dylan McAnallen, a military veteran and sophomore in the mechanic engineering program. McAnallan preceded Davis on stage and showed the high school students how beginners can defeat the cube, using the layers, eight corners or 12 edges methods. McAnallen opted for the layer method and went through it step-by-step. Although the layer method is the easiest, it is not the most efficient.

“The layer method is one of the slower methods due to its simplicity,” said Miller, who learned how to solve it by watching a YouTube video. “I’ve used other methods, and my best time is one minute, 50 seconds.”

A product of Butler High School, McAnallen served four years in the Marine Corps. He was honorably discharged two years ago with the rank of Sergeant E-4. He enrolled in the engineering program so he could design vehicles that are safer when hit by an IED, improvised explosive device.

“I want to work for OshKosh or Force Protection when I graduate,” said Miller, who lives a few miles from campus in the Mt. Vernon neighborhood of New Kensington. “They make the tactical vehicles for the Marine Corps.”

When he is not in the classroom, he can be found on the mat. A member of the campus’ intercollegiate wrestling team, McAnallen wrestles in the 197-pound weight class. He was named Penn State University Athletic Conference Student-Athlete of the Week Jan. 26, for his victory in the Ship Builder Invitational in Newport News, Virginia. The post-season begins Feb. 27 as McAnallen heads to the National Collegiate Wresting Association (NCWA) Mid-East Qualifiers at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County in Catonsville, Maryland. The top five in each weight class advance to the NCWA national championships, March 10-12, in Kissimmee, Florida.

Davis and McAnallen were given the opportunity to present their Rubik’s Cube expertise by Ge Mu, instructor in mathematics, and Ji Xiang, assistant professor of mathematics. Having guest speakers is a tradition for the math competition, but having campus students do it is a first.“By having student presenters, I believe it is a good opportunity to show the excellence of Penn State New Kensington to the community,” said Mu. “It also motivates students' creativity.”

The two students earned the honor by their performance at Mu and Ji’s Math Happy Hour event. Twice a semester, the husband-and-wife mathematicians organize presentations that are open to the campus community and feature special mathematics topics, as well as games and food. Rubik’s Cube was the topic last spring, and Davis and McAnallen stood above the rest of students by grasping the concepts and presenting their findings.

Prior to the campus students putting on the demonstration, Ji gave the high school students some basic facts about the Rubik’s Cube game, such as how many positions for a Rubik's Cube (43,252,003,274,489,856,000, about 43 quintillion) and the smallest number of steps to solve a cube, called God’s Number (20). He also introduced advanced algorithms for solving the cube.

Mathematics Association of AmericaNearly 80 students from high schools in the western Pennsylvania region, including Burrell, Kiski Area and Valley, took the 25-question, 75-minute, multiple-choice examination in secondary school mathematics. The problems are solved with pre-calculus concepts. Mu and Ji organized the event and administered the test.

Formerly called the American Mathematics Competition, the challenges are held annually and administered to more than 200,000 high school students to help identify the students with truly exceptional mathematics talent. The main purpose of the competitions is to spur interest in mathematics and to develop talent through solving challenging problems in a timed multiple-choice format.

The math competition is one in a series of examinations, followed in the United States by the American Invitational Examination and the USA Mathematical Olympiad, that culminate in participation in the International Mathematical Olympiad, the most prestigious and difficult secondary mathematics examination in the world. Students who are among the very best receive indication of how they stand relative to other students in the country and around the globe.

In addition to organizing national contests, Mu and Ji are the co-directors of the Mathematics League, an annual academic competition among the eight local high schools. Sponsored by WEDIG (Westmoreland Economic and Development Initiative for Growth), and held on the New Kensington campus, the league puts the students' math skills to the test by giving them the opportunity to go head-to-head with each other.

Each school is allowed three teams of five students, competing against all the other teams in each round. Students answer two sets of eight questions within the 25-minute limit for each set. The questions in algebra, geometry and other areas of mathematics are developed by Mu and Ji.

Heading into the final round, March 1, the leaderboard is crowded as the Kiski School A team scored 20 points to open a two-point advantage over Freeport A and a four-point lead over Armstrong A. Scores carry over to the final round. Yunzhe Li of Kiski School is the individual leader with nine points followed by T.J. Pascucci of Freeport and Abbas Merchant and Wei Zhang of Kiski with eight points.

The Saltsburg college preparatory boarding school is the defending Math League champ and has won the title, beginning in 2010, a record six consecutive years.

For additional information on MAA, Math Happy Hour and Math League, contact Mu at 724-334-6030 or gxm929@psu.edu