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Ana Caraiani '07 earned the title of Individual Putnam Fellow and won the prestigious Elizabeth Lowell Putnam Prize at the Putnam Mathematical Competition. Results of the competition were announced over spring break.

The Putnam exam, held in December, was taken by 3,615 undergraduate students from 479 colleges and universities across the U.S. and Canada.

The University entered 46 students into this year's competition, which awards scholarships of up to $25,000 to the highest scoring team and up to $2,500 for the individuals with the top five scores.

Top five finishers

Caraiani was one of those top five finishers, all of whom were automatically designated Putnam Fellows by the Mathematical Association of America.

In addition, she received the Elizabeth Lowell Putnam Prize and an additional $1,000, which is awarded to the top-performing female in the competition.

Caraiani won two gold medals in the International Math Olympiad prior to entering the University.

"Ana's a genius," said Matthew Ferszt, undergraduate administrator of the math department.

Two other University students placed in the top 20, Ferszt said, and the University team collectively earned the distinction of First Honorable Mention.

"All of our team members are highly skilled mathematicians," he said. "Considering that half the entrants [to the Putnam competition] scored zero, what they did was almost phenomenal."

The exam administered in the Putnam competition consists of 12 questions worth 10 points each. The problems "cut across algebra, geometry, analysis, statistics and are meant to be cross-disciplinary," Ferszt said.

'A lot of intuition'

Some questions involve deeper concepts such as lattice theory and cardinal arithmetic, but Caraiani said the time constraints presented by the exam format were the most difficult part of the competition.

"You can understand the text of the problems but the hard part is doing six problems in three hours," she said. "It requires a lot of intuition."

The test is divided into two three-hour sessions and one two-hour break.

Caraiani, an aspiring math concentrator, scored somewhere between 80 and 110 out of a possible 120 points.

The exact scores and rankings of each year's Putnam Fellows are not disclosed, even to the winners, she said.

Caraiani plans to participate in the Putnam competition as long as she remains an undergraduate, but anticipates there will be more pressure to repeat her performance in years to come.

"This year I didn't care about [the competition] too much," she said. "I had other things on my mind besides just math, so I was relaxed during the exam."

"I'm really happy, but I have to think about my classes now too," she added. "Problem-solving isn't all there is to math. It requires a lot of hard work."

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