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Harvard Places First In Putnam Math Competition

By Bharath Venkatesh, Contributing Writer

Harvard placed first in the William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition, which is often considered the most prestigious annual college-level math competition in the world, the Mathematical Association of America announced last week.

Beating other powerhouse institutions such as MIT, UCLA, and Carnegie Mellon, a three-person team—consisting of Allen Yuan ’15, Eric K. Larson ’13, and Evan M. O’Dorney ’15—led Harvard to clinch the Putnam for the second year in a row and the 30th time in the history of the competition.

The first place prize consisted of $25,000 for the Harvard team, along with an additional $1,000 each for Yuan, Larson, and O’Dorney.

Contestants participated in a six-hour written examination containing twelve questions. The students with the top five individual scores on the exam were named Putnam Fellows.This year, Harvard boasts two of the five fellows: Eric K. Larson ’13 and Evan M. O’Dorney ’15.

This is the first time that Larson, who has competed since his sophomore year, was named a Putnam Fellow.

“It’s just sort of a fun competition,” Larson said. “Some people take it more seriously than I do. For me it’s just a fun chance to solve some math problems.”

For O’Dorney, who scored in the top 24 when he first took the exam as a high school senior, this result marks his second consecutive year being named a fellow.

“I’m finding that I’m getting too old for contest math,” said O’Dorney with a smile as he recalled that this was his third year taking the Putnam exam.

Although O’Dorney and Larson are both Mathematics concentrators, they said that one does not need to be familiar with advanced math topics to do well on the Putnam exam.

“The material tested is very basic, but the problems are very tricky,” said Larson. “The questions usually don’t require much in the way of advanced mathematics to solve. They just require cleverly applying basic calculus, linear algebra, group theory, that kind of stuff.”

Teammate Yuan, also a Mathematics concentrator, echoed this sentiment.

“Most of it is stuff that you learn in high school,” said Yuan, who qualified for the Harvard Putnam team for the first time this year.

Unlike Yuan, who will be eligible to take the exam for the rest of his college career, O’Dorney’s next year will mark his last try at the Putnam, which prevents participants from taking the exam more than four times.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

CORRECTION: April 2, 2013

An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that a Harvard team recently won the William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition for the third year in a row. In fact, the team’s recently announced victory in the 2012 competition marked its second straight year of winning the Putnam.

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