Five of six top Putnam math contest scorers are from MIT
MIT took first place in the 2014 William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition, results for which were recently released. Five MIT individuals also received the Putnam Fellowship, which was awarded to the top six scorers.
Zipei Nie ’15, Mitchell M. Lee ’16, and David H. Yang ’17 made up the first-place-winning team, and Nie, Yang, Mark Sellke ’18, Bobby Shen ’17, and Lingfu Zhang ’17 were Fellows. These six were among the 32 MIT students placing in the top 89, all in an overall pool of 4,320 competitors from 577 schools.
The Putnam test, which began in 1938, has 12 problems and lasts for six hours. It emphasizes speed, unlike the mathematical research conducted at institutions like MIT. “Class at MIT didn’t help much directly; the Putnam doesn’t cover any super-advanced math, so I knew all the theory needed before coming here,” Sellke said.
The exam is known for being difficult. The median for this year was 3 points out of 120, and many people get a score of zero. “I’d tell people interested in taking the Putnam to go for it and not worry about the competitive part; you should take it for the chance to work on fun math problems and discuss them afterwards,” Sellke said.
Freshmen at MIT can prepare for the Putnam by taking 18.A34 (Problem Solving Seminar) taught by Bjorn Poonen, a math professor and four-time Putnam Fellow himself.
The Fellows received $2,500 each, and the scoring team members received $1,000 each in addition to the $25,000 that MIT was awarded.