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MIT Team Places Second in Putnam Math Contest

By Kristen Landino

An MIT Team comprised of Amit Khetan G, Eric H. Kuo ’99, and Edward D. Lee ’99 placed second out of 319 teams in the prestigious William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition held on December 5, 1998.

Each team member received $800, and the MIT Math Department was awarded $20,000 for its team placing in the competition.

Khetan and Abhinav Kumar ’02 were the highest ranking MIT individuals, garnering slots in the top twenty-five out of more than 2500 participants. Both received prizes of $250.

“This is an extraordinary accomplishment, a triumph of consistency. It is a very competitive exam. We are very happy about how we did,” said Hartley Rogers, Jr., Mathematics Professor.

The difficulty levels vary from year to year, according to Kumar.

“This year was a bit easier to follow,” Kumar said.

Honorable mention winners among MIT students included Adrian Birka ’02, Constantin S. Chiscanu ’00, Kai Huang ’02, Miro Jurisic ’99, Eric H. Kuo ’99, Edward D. Lee ’99, and Hoe-teck Wee ’02. In total, 77 students represented MIT in the competition.

Top teams and schools get prizes

The first place team composed of Michael L. Develin, Ciprian Manoescu, and Dragos N. Oprea hailed from Harvard University. A Princeton University team took third place, followed by the California Institute of Technology in fourth, and the University of Waterloo in fifth.

The top five teams in the competition receive cash prizes. Awards are also given to the teams’ mathematics departments.

In 1998, 2,581 students from 419 colleges and universities in both Canada and the United States participated in the competition.

MIT has an internal selection process for its team based on previous scores earned on the exam. Any undergraduate may enter the competition as an individual competitor.

“Our goal is to select the three strongest people for the team. We usually take the three highest scorers from last year’s exam,” Rogers said.

The Putnam Mathematical Competition began in 1938 and is sponsored by the Mathematical Association of America.

The competition is considered to be the most rigorous test of mathematical reasoning ability for college students, although it rarely involves any technical knowledge beyond high school mathematics.

A background of elementary math, linear algebra, discrete math, and number theory is recommended. The problems require incredible ingenuity and insight on the part of the student to solve them correctly.

18.S34, Mathematical Problem Solving, is a seminar taught by Mathematics Professors Hartley Rogers, Jr. and Richard P. Stanley which focuses on skills needed to do well in the Putnam Math Competition.

The competition is divided into two sessions, morning and afternoon, lasting three hours each. There are six problems on each section and they are graded on a 0-10 point scale, for a maximum score of 120 points. The median score on the 1998 exam was 10 points, so participants who worked just one problem correctly scored in the top half of entries.

The competition is open to regularly enrolled undergraduates in colleges and universities of the United States and Canada who have not yet received a college degree.