• Hartley Rogers (far left) and his co-coach Richard P. Stanley (far right), celebrate with the team that came in second place in the Putnam math competition: (left to right) Reid W. Barton, Abhinav Kumar and Pavlo M. Pylyavskyy.

    Photo / Donna Coveney

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Math students finish 2nd in Putnam competition

Led by the stellar performance of freshman Reid W. Barton, the MIT team finished second for the second consecutive year in the prestigious William Lowell Putnam intercollegiate mathematics competition.

Barton, who is from Arlington, finished in the top five, earning a Putnam Fellowship. Other members of the three-person MIT team were senior Abhinav Kumar of India and junior Pavlo M. Pylyavskyy of the Ukraine, both math majors. The MIT team members averaged 75 out of a possible 120. No one achieved a perfect score.

"It's a hard test graded in a tough way," said Professor Hartley Rogers Jr., the team's co-coach. "That's quite a credible performance."

The Department of Mathematics received $20,000 for the team's performance to support and promote activities within the department. Team members each received $800 and a medal, which were presented Thursday night by Rogers and Professor Richard P. Stanley, the other co-coach. Mathematics instructor Dan Stefanica-Nica aids in the coaching.

The annual competition, inaugurated in 1938, traditionally takes place on the first Saturday in December. Students from universities in the United States and Canada tackle 12 problems worth 10 points apiece in two three-hour sessions. Prior to the competition, each university designates three participants as members of its team.

Pylyavskyy, who was chosen for the MIT team after entering on his own in 2000 and finishing among the top five, found this year's problems more difficult. "I'm not sure why," he said. "Probably the problems the previous year were more of my type."

Winner of two gold medals, a silver and a bronze while competing as an individual in the International Mathematical Olympiads, Pylyavskyy enjoyed having teammates. "There is not much you can do to help your partners except writing your own work as well as you can," he said. "But definitely I cared about the result of our team."

Kumar, competing in his fourth and final Putnam, finished in the top five in 1999 and 2000. Unlike Pylyavskyy, he found the 2001 questions easier than the ones on earlier exams. "At least six of the 12 were very easy and there were some others of moderate difficulty," said Kumar, who won a silver and gold in the International Olympiads of 1997 and 1998, respectively.

Although this was Barton's first time to compete in the math competition, it's not his only international competition. He was a member of the MIT programming team that took second place in the International Collegiate Programming Contest in Honolulu in March.

In addition to the team, 98 MIT students competed, scoring a median grade of 21. MIT freshman Greta Panova of Bulgaria scored in the top 20, with the second highest grade among women. The median grade for all 3,000 participants was 1.

Harvard University won the 2001 competition, earning $25,000 for its department. Harvard has finished first seven times since 1991.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on May 15, 2002.

Topics: Mathematics, Students


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