Tuesday, July 14, 2009

USA! USA! USA!


Hey there sports fans there's an international showdown going on that you might not even know about! Right now some of the brightest high school physics minds in the United States are down in Mexico matching wits against some of the brightest high school physics minds of the rest of the world. It’s the annual International Physics Olympiad! Go team go!

Ok, I got that out of my system, but the IPHO, being held this year in Merida Mexico, really is an incredible event. Each year over 65 teams representing countries from around the world vie for the gold. Instead of incredible feats of strength the participants must perform incredible feats of intellect. Through three physics problems and a lab held over the course of eight days from July 12th to the 19th, the teams will duke it out to see who goes home with the gold!

I had the privilege of meeting some of the team members and coaches in May when they were training at the University of Maryland. I was really blown away when I met them; I have never seen a big group of kids who got such a big kick out of science and discovery.

"It's really fun. It's really exciting. You're challenged a lot more than you would be in high school," said Anand Natarajan, who was selected to travel to Mexico.

Getting to the finals was no easy task for the team members. About four thousand students took the first round "F=MA" exam. From there two more tests followed, each getting tougher as they go. I've looked through some of old exams and the actual IPHO questions and they are not simple matters by any stretch.


What struck me most about the team when I visited was even though many of them had only met each other a few days earlier, how close a bond they all seemed to have. Not only were they a team, but they all really seemed like a big group of friends. When everyone ate lunch together they were relaxed and joked around like they had known each other for years and did this every day.

"They can be who they are without being self conscious about being the only kid in the room who likes physics," said Paul Stanley, their head coach.

Even though there were only five who would travel to Mexico and nineteen kids hoping to go, there was no rivalry between them for the coveted slots. Everyone was there doing what they loved to do, physics.

“I never felt that the camp was about fostering competition over the five traveling team spots,” said Marianna Mao who is currently down in Mexico, “Physics is our idea of a good time.”


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