Math undergraduates score big in Putnam

Once again, Duke undergraduates scored high in the 59th annual William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition, one of the most prestigious math contests in the country.

Two Duke undergraduates, sophomore Jonathan (Nathan) Curtis and freshman Kevin Lacker, were named Putnam Fellows for scoring among the top 5 of the 2,581 contestants from 419 colleges and universities in Canada and the United States. Curtis and Lacker will each receive $2,500 for their scores in this six-hour event. To put their impressive effort into context, both scored above 100 when the median score was 9 out of 120.

Sophomores John Clyde and Carl Miller each earned Honorable Mention for their ranks within the top 3 percent of these best math students in North America. Andrew Dittmer ranked among the top 100, sophomore Michael Colsher, juniors Sarah Dean and Spencer Shepard each ranked among the top 5 percent with senior John Hyde, sophomore Daniel Neill, and junior Jeffrey Mermin among the top eighth. Freshmen Francisco Caruso and Andrew Goss were among the top quarter.

Only two Duke students had ever been Putnam Fellows in the past: Jeff Vanderkam in 1992 and Craig Gentry in 1993.

Other awards are also coming to Duke math undergraduates. For the second year in a row, a team of three Duke undergraduates, W. Garrett Mitchener, John Thacker and Samuel Malone, submitted a winning paper in the 15th annual Mathematical Contest in Modeling.

After working three days and nights on this project in early February, the students developed a formula to determine the maximum safe capacity of a room or other facility, with particular attention to the Marketplace on East Campus. In their model the students took into account "the time it takes for a room to become dangerous to inhabit when toxins are leaking into the atmosphere, including the carbon dioxide produced by human respiration and by a fire."

The contest's sponsoring agency, the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS), will award each team member $300 and a framed certificate. This is a repeat victory for team captain Mitchener and for Thacker.