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Lafayette has scored within the top five percent of undergraduate institutions in the nation taking the William Powell Putnam Mathematical Competition, described by Time magazine as “the world’s toughest math test.”

According to results released this month, Lafayette finished 24th among 476 institutions, best among Patriot League schools. It was paced by three seniors among the top ten percent of the 3,300 competitors: Alex Balan of Bucharest, Romania, who is pursuing a bachelor of science degree in computer science and bachelor of arts with a major in mathematic-economics, 34 points; Guangxi Wang, an electrical and computer engineering major from Shanghai, China, 31 points; and Ed Swartz, a mathematics major from Dunmore, Pa., 30 points.

Last fall, Balan became the second Lafayette student in two years to win the prestigious Microsoft Scholarship Award, given to just ten undergraduates in the nation. (See related story.)

Last summer, Wang became the third Lafayette student in three years to join the few in the world to receive a Microwave Theory and Techniques Society Undergraduate Scholarship from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. (See related story.)

“I’m extremely proud of what these students have accomplished,” says Gary Gordon, professor of mathematics and adviser to the Putnam team. “All three are seniors who have participated in problem-solving competitions and other activities the math department has offered. Their achievement represents the culmination of outstanding undergraduate careers.”

Lafayette has improved its ranking on the test for the past two years, finishing in the top 12 percent last year. The top six Putnam schools for 2002-03 are, in order, Harvard, Princeton, Duke, Berkeley, Stanford, and CalTech.

Nine of Lafayette’s 12 students placed in the top 50 percent this year. The participants were:
first-year students — Josh Porter of Pittstown, N.J., within the top third nationally with a score of 14; Maria Azimova of Tashkent, Uzbekistan; Ibrahima Bah of Bronx, N.Y.; Jacob Carson of New Richmond, Ohio; John Kolba of Chelmsford, Mass.

sophomores — Adam Hill, a chemical engineering major from Exeter, N.H.; Farhan Ahmed, an electrical and computer engineering major from Utter Pradesh, India; Rob McEwen, a computer science major from Morgantown, Pa.; Ekaterina Jager of Tashkent, Uzbekistan, pursuing a bachelor of science in electrical and computer engineering and bachelor of arts with a major in mathematics-economics.

In the notoriously difficult exam, students attempt to solve six problems in a three-hour morning session, returning for six more in the afternoon. No calculators or notes are allowed. Problem topics are drawn from many different areas of mathematics.

A sample problem from the test: Shanille O’Keal shoots free throws on a basketball court. She hits the first and misses the second, and thereafter the probability that she hits the next shot is equal to the proportion of shots she has hit so far. What is the probability she hits exactly 50 of her first 100 shots? Answer: 1/99.

Taken the first Saturday in December, the Putnam exam is part of an active schedule of mathematics problem-solving events in which Lafayette students participate, including the Lehigh Valley Association of Independent Colleges Math Contest, in which Lafayette has finished first for the past three years; the national Mathematical Contest in Modeling, in which a Lafayette team scored the second highest rating possible last year; the national Interdisciplinary Contest in Modeling; and the math department’s individual and team Barge contests, Math Bowl, and Problem Group.

Faculty involved in these opportunities are Derek Smith, Qin Lu, and Ethan Berkove, assistant professors of mathematics; Thomas Yuster, associate professor of mathematics; and Elizabeth McMahon, professor of mathematics.

Categorized in: Academic News