University of Nevada, Reno team places second at regional math competition

Math team gets competitive and shows a strong performance in the toughest Intermountain Math Competition yet

11/15/2011 - By: Rachel Sa-Onoy
chris salls, math competitor Christopher Salls, a National Merit Scholar, seen signing his commitment to the University of Nevada, Reno during a signing event at Reed High school in 2009, performed at the top of his team at the Intermountain Math Competition last month. The University’s team placed second overall at the competition.

A regional math competition brought together some of the area's brightest minds for the Intermountain Math Competition with University of Nevada, Reno students placing second behind BYU.

The Intermountain Math Competition, in its seventh year, occurs once per semester and includes students from the region's major colleges and universities, which included Boise; Brigham Young University; University of Nevada, Las Vegas; Utah State University and University of Nevada, Reno.

The competition comes in the form of a timed exam, and winning teams are monetarily rewarded.

The competition also serves as good practice for the reputably difficult nationwide math test, the Putnam exam, scheduled this year for Dec. 3.

"The Intermountain Competition is one of the trials which prep the members of the University team for the very prestigious Putnam exam," said Birant Ramazan, a professor in the University of Nevada, Reno Department of Mathematics and Statistics, who coached the students for the competition. "It certainly is a very good opportunity to prepare for the test and so we try to do as much as we can to get the students primed for it."

The math problems at the Intermountain Competition, known as a mini-Putnam exam, are of the same level of difficulty as those used at the Putnam, giving students an excellent occasion to practice in exam conditions.

"The competition was considered harder than last year's competition, and yet we had some strong performances from a good number of our students," said Ramazan. "Even the best mathematics students can have a hard time with the problems due to the questions' specialized focus. Regular math courses cannot adequately address advanced techniques of problem solving.

The students solved seven difficult problems in three hours. To prepare, the mathematics and statistics department at the University organized free weekly preparation sessions in which the students were introduced to techniques of proof and careful exposition for problems of this level of difficulty.

At the Intermountain Competition, the scores of the top three students representing their colleges are added together to determine the final scores of the universities. There were nine University of Nevada, Reno students who participated at the contest, and the team placed second overall.

Christopher Salls achieved the top score for the University, with 35 points out of a maximum of 70, and had the sixth highest score out of 69 competitors. Salls, a sophomore and a National Merit Scholar, will receive $150 from the mathematics and statistics department and $50 from by Brigham Young University.

"It is interesting, also, to note that the most difficult problem among the seven in competition was one of the two problems our team proposed," Ramazan said. "Only four students out of the 69 participants had a non-zero score on it."

Department of Mathematics and Statistics.


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