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03/21/2012 07:00:00

Caltech Senior Is Top-Five Finisher in Math Competition for Fourth Time

Caltech team places third in contest

As a four-time participant in the William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition, Caltech senior Brian Lawrence has been named a Putnam Fellow—an honor that goes to the top-five ranking individuals—for the fourth time, the maximum allowed by eligibility rules. Previously, this feat has only been accomplished seven times in the 73-year history of the competition, and not since 2006.

Senior Samuel Elder was also named a Putnam Fellow for his first time and freshman Zhaorong Jin earned an honorable mention. As a team, Caltech placed third.

This is the fourth straight year that Caltech has finished in the top five; Caltech won the competition outright last year. For third place, the team won $15,000, and each team member receives $600. Each Putnam Fellow receives $2,500.

This year's competition, which took place in December, involved 4440 students from 572 colleges and universities in Canada and the United States. There were teams from 460 institutions. Harvard placed first, followed by Carnegie Mellon University. Stanford and MIT rounded out the rest of the top five.

Putnam Fellows from Caltech in recent years include Po-Ru Loh in 2006 and Jason Bland in 2007. Legendary Caltech physicist Richard Feynman was a fellow in 1939, as was Caltech's IBM Professor of Mathematics and Theoretical Physics Barry Simon in 1965.

Taking place every year since 1938, the Putnam Competition is a two-part written test in which participants have a total of six hours to tackle 12 problems. Caltech has won the competition 10 times, second only to Harvard (28). Caltech has also finished in the top five 32 times, behind MIT (42) and Harvard (57).

Written by Marcus Woo