• MIT Mathematics excelled at this year's Putnam Competition: (l-r) Shengtong Zhang, Danielle Wang, Junyao Peng, Yunkun Zhou, Yuan Yao, Ashwin Sah, and coach Yufei Zhao.

    MIT Mathematics excelled at this year's Putnam Competition: (l-r) Shengtong Zhang, Danielle Wang, Junyao Peng, Yunkun Zhou, Yuan Yao, Ashwin Sah, and coach Yufei Zhao.

    Photo courtesy of Yufei Zhao

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  • Shengtong Zhang reviews A6, an analysis problem, in Yufei Zhao's Putnam Competition seminar.

    Shengtong Zhang reviews A6, an analysis problem, in Yufei Zhao's Putnam Competition seminar.

    Photo: Sandi Miller

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  • Students at MIT take the grueling six-hour Putnam exam on Dec. 1.

    Students at MIT take the grueling six-hour Putnam exam on Dec. 1.

    Photo: Yufei Zhao

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  • Left to right: Coach Yufei Zhao poses with winners Ashwin Sah, Shengtong Zhang, Yuan Yao, Yunkun Zhou, Junyao Peng, and Danielle Wang.

    Left to right: Coach Yufei Zhao poses with winners Ashwin Sah, Shengtong Zhang, Yuan Yao, Yunkun Zhou, Junyao Peng, and Danielle Wang.

    Photo: Dennis Porche

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MIT students take 2nd place in annual Putnam Mathematical Competition

MIT Mathematics excelled at this year's Putnam Competition: (l-r) Shengtong Zhang, Danielle Wang, Junyao Peng, Yunkun Zhou, Yuan Yao, Ashwin Sah, and coach Yufei Zhao.

Student competitors earn two Putnam Fellowships, an Elizabeth Lowell Putnam Prize, and 11 of 15 top spots.


Press Contact

Sandi Miller
Email: sandim@mit.edu
Phone: 617-258-6895
Department of Physics

MIT students captured numerous individual and team honors in the 2018 William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition, earning 17 out of the top 27 scores. 

Yuan Yao and Shengtong Zhang were named Putnam Fellows, a distinction given to the top five individual contestants in the competition, and Danielle Wang received the Elizabeth Lowell Putnam Prize, given to the top female contestant. It was her second win in the category.

The combined scores of student team members Junyao Peng, Ashwin Sah, and Yunkun Zhou captured second place in the team competition, just behind first place winner Harvard University. MIT students overall took 11 of the first 15 spots in the demanding six-hour mathematics competition. Counting honorable mentions, 45 of the top 101 students were from MIT. 

The exam consists of 12 problems, worth 10 points each, that students work on over two three-hour sessions on Dec. 1, 2018. Contest results were announced Feb. 25. The highest exam score was 114 out of a possible 120 points. However, as an example of just how tough this exam is, the median score was just 2 points.

The honors also come with cash awards. The team earned earned the Department of Mathematics $20,000 for placing second, with each team member also receiving $800. Putnam Fellows receive $2,500, while the Elizabeth Lowell Putnam Prize winner gets $1,000.

“I am super proud of our students' performance on the Putnam Competition,” said MIT’s Putnam coach and math professor Yufei Zhao. “The number of high scorers from MIT shows the unparalleled strength of our undergraduate math community.”

Department of Mathematics Head Michel Goemans added: “Once again, the performance of our MIT undergrads at the Putnam competition has been phenomenal. We are so fortunate at MIT to have such a large group of mathematically brilliant students.”

Many Putnam competitors have experience in Math Olympiad-type competitions, and MIT students can enroll in the fall 18.A34 (Mathematical Problem Solving: Putnam Seminar). The class is taught by Zhao ’10, PhD ’15, a three-time Putnam Fellow who took the same class under professors Richard Stanley and Hartley Rogers. Zhao shares test-taking strategies, and students practice with past years’ Putnam exams. 

Of the three non-MIT Putnam Fellows, all from Harvard this year, two also have strong MIT ties as 2014 alums of the Department of Mathematics’ PRIMES program: Shyam Narayanan (PRIMES-USA 2014) and David Stoner (RSI 2014). Stoner also studies combinatorics under Zhao.

The 79th Putnam Competition was administered by the Mathematical Association of America. It saw a total of 164 MIT students competing among 4,623 test-takers from 568 U.S. and Canadian institutions. Last year, MIT’s team finished first, and took five of the six Putnam Fellows spots. Overall last year, MIT students took 17 of the top 25 spots, and 38 percent of the top 100 ranking individual students were from the Institute.


Topics: School of Science, Mathematics, Awards, honors and fellowships, Contests and academic competitions, Students, Undergraduate, Women in STEM

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