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IU math, music freshman in top 20 of 4,036 undergrads taking Putnam exam

March 26, 2010

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Indiana University freshman Miles Edwards, a cello performance and math student from Marietta, Ga., is in some heady company. He recently scored in the top 20 students nationally in the prestigious William Lowell Putnam Mathematical competition.

"This is a day-long, theoretical math exam, comprising only 12 problems. Students who get one or two right are often approached by graduate schools asking them to apply. A score like Miles', while yet a freshman, is unheard of," said mathematics professor Kent Orr.

Edwards was competing in a group of 4,036 students from colleges and universities across the U.S. who took the exam in December. Miles was one of four students who tied for 16th place; each was given an official ranking of 17.5.

The annual competition, administered by the Mathematical Association of America, is designed for mathematics and physical science majors, to test originality as well as technical competence. Contestants are expected to be familiar with the formal theories embodied in undergraduate mathematics; areas covered include qualitative existence theorems, group theory, set theory, graph theory, lattice theory, number theory and cardinal arithmetic.

Mathematics Professor Marlies Gerber coached the students on IU's Putnam exam team. "Miles was a star student in the Putnam Seminar," she said. "I expected him to do very well, but the result was even more spectacular than I had anticipated."

This semester Edwards is taking a reading course with Professor Michael Larsen on algebraic geometry, a subject that is approximately at the second-year graduate level, according to Gerber.

The top 25 Putnam exam scores this year were dominated by students from schools such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (eight students in the top 25), Harvard University and the California Institute of Technology (four students each).

Miles, who plays in the University Orchestra, seems to take his achievement and the accolades in stride. "I love IU; I have met wonderful people here," he said. "I consider myself lucky to be in a place where I can get a first-rate education in the two subjects I really love. In particular, I am grateful to the math department for being flexible with me and for helping me to study math beyond the courses that a first-year undergraduate would normally take. "

"I enjoyed the exam and the challenge it posed," he added. And yes, he's planning to take it again. Three more times -- once for every year he is eligible as an undergraduate student. As for the future? "I just hope to keep doing both math and cello for as long as I can do both."

Miles Edwards graduated from Lassiter High School in Marietta, Ga., and plans to earn a Bachelor of Science in cello performance from the Jacobs School of Music and a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics from the IU College of Arts and Sciences.

To speak with Edwards, please contact Jocelyn Bowie, director of communications and marketing, IU College of Arts and Sciences, at 812-855-5265 or jbowie [at] indiana [dot] edu ( .