Grand Junction resident Zachary Harris was a member of a team of mathematical problem-solvers from Colorado State University that placed 30th out of 419 colleges and universities in the 58th annual William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition. Harris, a senior majoring in mathematics, ranked first from Colorado in the 1995 Putnam competition.
The Colorado State students accomplished the feat last Dec. 6 by tackling 12 questions such as, "Show that there do not exist four points in the Euclidean plane such that the pairwise distances between the points are all odd integers." Winners were announced at the end of March.
Mathematics Professor Richard Osborne, who coached the Colorado State group, said that out of a possible 120 points, the average score was one. Team scores are not made available, but five Colorado State competitors ranked in the top quarter of test-takers nationally and one was in the top five percent in the nation, earning the highest score of any Colorado entrant.
"Most mathematics professors can’t just look at one of these problems and tell you how to do it," said Osborne, himself a one-time Putnam competitor. "I can do some of them in an hour if I really go after the problem. Some I get stuck on, and some I could never solve."
The William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition is funded by the Putnam Fund for the Promotion of Scholarship and administered by the Mathematical Association of America.