Putnam Team

Each year we proudly put together a "team" to participate in the friendly mathematical contest known as the Putnam Competition. The reward is intercollegiate glory, as well as a potential cash prize. Some more details about the Putnam Competition appear below, or at the competition's page. To compete, contact the team organizer, Prof. Bruce Cooperstein (coop@ucsc.edu). Would-be participants are encouraged to take MATH 101 as preparation.

What is the Putnam ? 

The Putnam Competition takes place annually on the first Saturday of December, and consists of two 3-hour exam sessions. During each session, participants work individually on 6 challenging mathematical problems, without collaboration. Prior to 2019, each school was represented by a pre-selected team of 3 participants. Starting in 2019, there is no pre-selection of team members, and hence no limit on how many participants a school can enter. Schools are ranked by the sum of the scores of their top 3 participants, after grading is complete. These top 3 participants are referred to as the team for that school. 

Prizes will be awarded to the schools with the top 5 winning teams. The 5 highest ranking individuals are designated Putnam Fellows by the Mathematical Association of America, and will be given prizes. Prizes will also go to each of the next 20 highest ranking contestants. Finally, the Elizabeth Lowell Putnam Prize will be awarded to a woman who demonstrates exemplary performance in the Competition, in addition to any other prizes she wins. (To be eligible for this award, contestants must specify their gender when applying.)

History of the Putnam

• The competition began in 1938 and is designed to stimulate a healthful rivalry in mathematical studies in the colleges and universities of the United States and Canada.
• It exists because Mr. William Lowell Putnam had a profound conviction in the value of organized team competition in regular college studies. Mr. Putnam, a member of the Harvard class of 1882, wrote an article for the December 1921 issue of the Harvard Graduates’ Magazine in which he described the merits of an intellectual intercollegiate competition.
• To establish such a competition, his widow, Elizabeth Lowell Putnam, in 1927 created a trust fund known as the William Lowell Putnam Intercollegiate Memorial Fund.
• The first competition supported by this fund was in the field of English and a few years later a second experimental competition was held, this time in mathematics between two institutions.
• It was not until after Mrs. Putnam’s death in 1935 that the examination assumed its present form and was placed under the administration of the Mathematical Association of America.

Description of the Exam

• The examination will be constructed to test originality as well as technical competence.
• It is expected that the contestant will be familiar with the formal theories embodied in undergraduate mathematics.
• It is assumed that such training, designed for mathematics and physical science majors, will include somewhat more sophisticated mathematical concepts than is the case in minimal courses.
• Thus the differential equations course is presumed to include some references to qualitative existence theorems and subtleties beyond the routine solution devices.
• Questions will be included that cut across the bounds of various disciplines, and self-contained questions that do not fit into any of the usual categories may be included.
• It will be assumed that the contestant has acquired a familiarity with the body of mathematical lore commonly discussed in mathematics clubs or in courses with such titles as “survey of the foundations of mathematics.”
• It is also expected that the self-contained questions involving elementary concepts from group theory, set theory, graph theory, lattice theory, number theory, and cardinal arithmetic will not be entirely foreign to the contestant’s experience.