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MIT Team Places 3rd in Putnam Contest Behind Harvard, Cornell

By Orli G. Bahcall

MIT placed third in the 56th annual William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition. The results for the Dec. 2 competition were released March 22.

The competition included more than 400 universities and colleges from the United States and Canada.

Harvard and Cornellplaced first and second in the competition, respectively.

Competing for MIT were Ruth A. Britto-Pacumio '96, Sergey M. Ioffe '96, and Thomas A. Weston '96. Members of the team were selected in advance by Professors of Mathematics Hartley Rogers Jr. and Richard P. Stanley, who have been involved in the competition every year.

The top five teams receive cash prizes. Awards are also given to the teams' mathematics departments. Each MIT team member will receive $300, and the MIT mathematics department will receive $3,000.

The departmental award will be used to support and promote undergraduate mathematics at MIT.

"Professor Stanley and I are very happy about the achievement of MIT's 1995 team," Rogers said. "They did the uniformly solid and consistent job that is key to earning a place in the top five."

The Putnam exam consists of two three-hour sections each of six questions. A background of elementary math, linear algebra, discrete math and number theory is recommended. Any undergraduate can take the exam.

A seminar offered in the fall, Mathematical Problem Solving (18S34) serves as a useful preparation and review, Rogers said.

Other MITstudents who earned high scores were: Federico Ardila '98, David Y. Jao '98, Amit Khetan '99, Eric H. Kuo '99, Adam W. Meyerson '97, and Alex Morcos '97.

Team aims to improve next year

While MIT did do very well, the focus during the exam is more towards individual performance. "People are generally more interested in the individual prizes," and that the individuals do well, Britto-Pacumio said. We "hope to do better in the future," Britto-Pacumio said.

The standards of competition among individuals and between teams has noticeably increased in recent years, Rogers said.

Correspondingly, the examinations have been made more difficult, Rogers added.

Some students had a different impression of the difficulty level. The exam was challenging, but "pretty easy - easier than two years ago," Ioffe said, who has competed for the past three years. The exam can be easy one year but more difficult the next, he said.

This was a "wonderful performance this year, but we weren't number one,"Ioffe said. However, all three of the MITteam members were in the honorable mention section, "which is very prestigious."