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.