Counting 'em up quick

by Paul Hung | 5/5/93 10:00pm

Dartmouth students placed 10th out of 284 schools in the annual Putnam Mathematics Examination, the College's best performance in the international competition in several years.

The squad of Radu Bacioiu '95, Rolf Nelson '94 and Dana Pascovici '95 earned a team score of 156 out of a possible 360 points.

Pascovici captured an additional honor as the top female scorer at the competition, receiving the Elizabeth Lowell Putnam Prize. Her score placed her 16th among 2,421 contestants.

Bacioiu, Nelson and Selemon Getachew '95, who also took the test, all finished in the top eight percent in individual scoring.

Colleges and universities from the U.S. and Canada participated in the contest which took place last December. Contestants learned of the results in March.

"We are extremely excited about the overall performance. This is the best Dartmouth finish in quite a few years," said Math Professor Thomas Sundquist, who coached the team.

Harvard took first place this year, followed by the University of Toronto, the University of Waterloo, Princeton and Cornell.

The test is open to all undergraduates, but this year only four Dartmouth students took the exam down from 13 last year, Getachew said.

Pascovici said she did not prepare much for the exam. "There are other schools that offer a whole course just to prepare for this test, but we did it mostly for fun," she said.

The six-hour test included 12 problems worth 10 points each. The questions involved advanced calculus, algebra, combinatorics and geometry.

"The contest is damned hard," Getachew said. "Even though you are given a total of six hours to solve 12 problems, you shouldn't be surprised to find problems that you wouldn't solve even if you were given a whole day to do so."

"Usually you need to combine skills in different branches of math to solve them," Bacioiu said.

One exam problem, for example, asked, "Four points are chosen at random on the surface of a sphere. What is the probability that the center of the sphere lies inside the tetrahedron whose vertices are at the four points?"

Bacioiu said doing "some nice problems for a couple of hours, forgetting about dull homeworks is kind of fun. I actually enjoyed solving problems."

"What's memorable about that is that we all get to talk about some of the problems on the first session of the exam," Getachew said, "You find how differently people approached certain questions. Of course, you also find out which problems you have done incorrectly."

This was the 53rd year the exam has been offered. The best Dartmouth finish was second place in the 1960s, Sundquist said.

Pascovici and Bacioiu are both from Bucharest, Romania. Nelson is from Brooklyn Park, Minn. and Getachew is from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Bacioiu is a double major in physics and computer science. Getachew and Pascovici are both double majors in math and computer science. Nelson is a triple major in math, computer science and physics.