Two MIT students placed in the top five in the prestigious William Lowell Putnam intercollegiate mathematics competition for 2008.

Junior math majors Yufei Zhao and Bohua Zhan earned recognition as Putnam Fellows for their top five finishes, an award that carries a $2,500 prize.

More than 3,600 students from across the country took the six-hour mathematics exam on Dec. 6, 2008. The 12-question test is given annually on the first Saturday in December.

For the second year in a row, MIT's math team took third place in the team competition. Overall, 23 MIT students finished in the top 79, earning honorable mentions.

The Putnam questions require students to be creative in applying their knowledge of basic calculus and algebra. The test is extremely difficult --out of a possible 120 points, the median score this year was 1. The highest score was 117.

Before the exam, each participating school chooses three students to form a team whose combined scores determine the overall school winner. MIT's team members this year were Zhao, junior math major Qingchun Ren and senior math major Xuancheng Shao.

The team's third-place finish earned $15,000 for the MIT math department, and each team member receives $600. Harvard's team took first place in the competition, with Princeton second.

Other MIT students in the top 16 were Ren, freshman Colin Sandon, and sophomore math major Jacob Steinhardt. Senior math major Thomas Belulovich and junior math major Gabriel Bujokas finished in the top 25.

The team was coached by Professor Emeritus Hartley Rogers; Richard Stanley, the Norman Levinson Professor of Applied Mathematics; and Associate Professor Kiran Kedlaya.

*A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on April 8, 2009 (download PDF).*