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by Shawna Carter

SOCORRO, N.M., May 8, 2006 — New Mexico Tech students Scott Cason, Michael Iverson, Craig Nicholas and Timothy Trujillo recently participated in the 66th annual William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition, a prestigious intercollegiate contest held among colleges and universities from throughout the United States and Canada.

The competition, which poses 12 math problems, is divided into two parts that are allotted three hours each and consist of six problems worth ten points. Points are awarded based on the work the participants complete and show on each problem.

“You have to work on the problems alone, with nothing but a pencil and eraser,” said Nicholas, a New Mexico Tech senior majoring in mathematics. “A nonzero score is very respectable.”

The contest is concurrently held on the first Saturday in December each year at each of the campuses of the participating schools.

A faculty advisor supervises the participants, as they work on the problems provided for the competition. This year, Oleg Makhnin, an assistant professor of mathematics at New Mexico Tech, was the advisor for the Tech participants.

“The competition is fascinating in that problems are formulated with relatively simple mathematics; usually, only Calculus II or III is needed to understand them, but they’re very difficult to solve,” remarks Nicholas.

This past year there were 3,545 participants from 500 schools. As an individual, Nicholas placed in the top 400 participants, and the Tech team placed in the top 200.

“I’m going to participate again this coming fall semester,” says Nicholas. “You don’t see such challenging problems presented anywhere else other than on the William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition.”

Students interested in participating in the next William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition can take a one-credit hour course, Math 401, which will be offered in the fall at New Mexico Tech and will be taught by Tech math professor Brian Borchers. Borchers will help prepare students by presenting problems from previous competitions and reviewing the type of mathematics required to solve the problems presented in the competition.

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