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Lafayette’s three-student team in the 2004-05 William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition, described by Time magazine as “the world’s toughest math test,” finished in the top ten percent of participating schools across the country with a rank of 53.

Lafayette’s team has finished in the top 15% four of the past five years, including a top 5% performance two years ago. A total of 22 Lafayette students were among the more than 3,700 students from 515 schools who took the exam in December.

Among the three students selected before the competition to represent Lafayette, physics major Aydin Gerek ’07 (Istanbul, Turkey) ranked 287th in the nation with a total of 31 points. Ekaterina Jager ’05(Tashkent, Uzbekistan), who is pursing a B.S. in electrical & computer engineering and A.B. with a major in mathematics, tied for 825th with 12 points, and mathematics major Jacob Carson ’06 (New Richmond, Ohio) earned 10 points to tie for 1,123rd.

While not a member of the designated team, Rob McEwen ’05(Morgantown, Pa.), who is pursuing a B.S. in computer science and A.B. with a major in mathematics, had the third-highest score among Lafayette students, tying for 916th in the nation with 11 points. Xue Ji’08 (Wuxi Jiangsu, China) had eight points to tie for 1376th.

Other Lafayette students taking the test were John Kolba, Brian Regan, Adam Hill, Ryan McCall, Maria Azimova, Josh Goldstein, Kevin Ehly, Ibrahima Bah, Jinjin Qian, Keming Liang, Jordan Tirrell, Teruhisa Haruguchi, Timothy Zirkel, Amanda Pikarski, Cassandra Schettino, Brian Kronenthal, and Rebecca Herr.

“Since only the most motivated and able students across the nation will sit for six hours to take a mathematics exam on a Saturday, getting a positive score on this year’s exam, when over half of the participants received a score of 0 out of 120, is quite an accomplishment!” says Putnam adviser Derek Smith, assistant professor of mathematics. “That 22 students took the exam and that several Lafayette students did so well reflects the very high motivation and mathematical abilities of our students.”

A sample question from the 2004-05 test:
Basketball star Shanille O’Keal’s team statistician keeps track of the number, S(N), of successful free throws she has made in her first N attempts of the season. Early in the season, S(N) was less than 80% of N, but by the end of the season, S(N) was more than 80% of N. Was there necessarily a moment in between when S(N) was exactly 80% of N?

Answer: Yes. For an explanation of why this is true, contact Smith at smithder.

The math department sponsors a Problem Solving Group that meets each week to discuss and solve mathematics problems, which helps students prepare for the Team Barge and Individual Barge Competitions, the Lehigh Valley Association of Independent Colleges (LVAIC) Math Contest, and the William Powell Putnam Mathematical Competition. For the past five years, a Lafayette team has taken first place in the LVAIC Math Contest.

Categorized in: Academic News