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MIT third overall in Putnam math competition

MIT's math team made a strong showing at the William Lowell Putnam intercollegiate mathematics competition, finishing in third place.

Nearly 3,800 students from across the country took the six-hour mathematics exam, and two MIT math majors finished in the top six: sophomore Qingchun Ren and junior Xuancheng Shao.

Those students earned recognition as Putnam Fellows and will each receive $2,500.

Overall, 21 MIT students finished in the top 74, earning honorable mentions.

"The spectacular results on the Putnam competition are just further evidence for what we already know: MIT students are fantastic. We are proud of them," said Michael Sipser, head of the math department.

The annual 12-question test, first administered in 1938, is typically given on the first Saturday in December. There are two three-hour sections, one in the morning and one in the afternoon.

The 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 2. The highest score was 110.

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 junior math major Hansheng Diao, senior electrical engineering and computer science major Eric Price and sophomore math major Yufei Zhao.

Zhao finished in the top 16, and Diao and Price each earned honorable mentions.

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 senior math majors Oleg Golberg and Yuncheng Lin. Senior math majors Anand Deopurkar and Anders Kaseorg finished in the top 24.

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

"I'm deeply grateful to Professors Hartley Rogers and Richard Stanley, who have helped prepare our Putnam contenders for many years, and to Associate Professor Kiran Kedlaya who has recently joined them in ably coaching our students," said Sipser.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on April 2, 2008 (download PDF).

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