A Report on the 2003 International Physics Olympiad
United States Places
First in the 34th International Physics Olympiad
Representatives of the 2003 U.S. Physics_Team won five medals and four special prizes at the 34th International Physics Olympiad held Aug. 2-11 in Taipei, Taiwan. Pavel Batrachenko was the absolute winner (first prize) of the 238-student competition. Pavel also received one of the two prizes for the best score in experiment. He was tied with Thaned Pruttivarasin from Thailand. Daniel Gulotta received a prize for the best score in theory, and Emily Russell received a prize as the best female participant. Pavel, Daniel, and Emily all received Palm Pilots. Pavel also received a video camera. All five students placed in the top 10%. Pavel Batrachenko (ranked 1st), Daniel Gulotta (ranked 13th), and Chintan Hossain (ranked 19th) received gold medals and digital cameras. Emily Russell (tied for 21st) and Immanuel Buder (ranked 23rd) received silver medals and CD players. Although the competition is among individuals, an informal summary of scores showed that the United States was the top-ranking country out of the 54 participating nations followed by South Korea, Taiwan, and Iran.
The selection process for
the 2003 U.S. Physics_Team began in January, when high school physics teachers
from throughout the country nominated over 1400 physics students to be members
of the 2003 team. The first round of exams in late January produced approximately
185 semifinalists who were given a second exam in March. Each semifinalist,
their nominating teacher, and their school received special prizes.
The 24 members of the 2003
U. S. Physics_Team were selected from the group of semifinalists based on their
screening exams, transcripts, and letters of recommendation. (Please see p.
20 of the Summer Announcer for the complete list of team members.) The
members of the team met at the University of Maryland for an intensive training
camp May 16-26. The activities at the camp included tutorials, laboratories,
problem sets, exams, and guest lectures on topics such as neutrino physics,
microchip fabrication, scanning tunneling electron microscopy, and solar physics.
On Tuesday afternoon the
team members traveled to Washington, D.C., to attend a reception with members
of Congress, cosponsored by Congressmen Vern Ehlers (R-MI) and Rush Holt (D-NJ),
both physicists. They also took a private tour of the Air and Space Museum and
had their pictures taken at the Einstein statue at the National Academy of Sciences.
At the end of the training
camp, five members were selected to represent the U.S. Physics_Team. In mid-June,
Steven Byrnes withdrew from the traveling team to attend the Lucent Scholars
program, and Tim Abbott withdrew to attend the Informatics Olympiad and to participate
in the Ross Summer School Program. The five U.S. representatives who traveled
to Taiwan are: Pavel Batrachenko, nominated by John Samuell at John Marshall
High School, Rochester, MN; Immanuel Buder, nominated by Philip Whalin at Thomas
Jefferson High School, Alexandria, VA; Daniel Gulotta, nominated by Laura Nickerson
at Illinois Math & Science Academy, Aurora, IL; Chintan Hossain, nominated
by David Stover at the Charter School of Wilmington Delaware, Wilmington, DE;
and Emily Russell, nominated by Lawrence Stowe at Choate Rosemary Hall, Wallingford,
The team representatives
met again at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, July 27-30, for
a mini-camp devoted to enhancing their laboratory skills. On
Taiwan is a lush, green
tropical island named Ilha Formosa (meaning beautiful island) by the Portuguese,
the earliest Europeans to arrive there. More recently it has been called green
silicon island because of its preeminence in laptop, motherboard, and silicon
chip manufacturing. Taipei, the host city, has modern skyscrapers and broad
avenues with multiple traffic lanes alternating with park-like median strips.
It is a city that, in the words of the deputy mayor, is full of hope and vitality.
The flight to Taiwan was
long - 12 and one-quarter hours nonstop over the Pacific Ocean. Trying to stay
awake in order to minimize jet lag, the travelers arrived the following evening
in Taipei. There, they were warmly welcomed by their hosts and whisked through
customs and immigration. Finally, the travelers checked into the hotel to get
some sleep. The next morning, they braved the heat, humidity, and traffic moving
every which way to walk about Taipei. Motor scooters are a very popular mode
of transportation, and many Taiwanese use them to quickly get around town, darting
through traffic and sometimes around pedestrians on sidewalks.
The travelers visited the memorial to Sun Yat-sen, who is revered as the father of modern China. At first, the motionless honor guards appeared to be statues, and then an attendant came to mop the sweat off their brows. The students and leaders had arrived just in time to watch the changing of the guard. Later, the travelers went on a folk arts tour. The first stop was a visit to Tsushih Temple, one of Taiwan's most renowned temples, to admire its elaborate stone columns, statues, and carved dragons. When informed that rubbing the free rolling ball inside the mouth of a stone lion would bring good luck, the coaches rubbed the ball enthusiastically. (It must have worked!) From the temple, they continued to Yingko, a town noted for its pottery. There they saw a demonstration of hand painting on porcelain. The students had the opportunity to demonstrate some good physics when their guide invited them to dip their fingers in water and rub them around the rim of porcelain bowls.
Fate Has Brought Us Together
The Olympiad began with
a welcoming banquet at the Grand Hotel on Aug. 2. The Grand Hotel, where the
students were lodged, is one of the more spectacular hotels in the world. Set
high on a hill, its balconies overlook most of the city of Taipei. The after-dinner
entertainment featured a Chinese opera performed by the National Taiwan Junior
College of the Performing Arts. Other performances included troupes of Chinese
acrobats and jugglers.
The official opening of
the 34th International Physics Olympiad (IPhO) took place the next day. The
opening ceremony featured an address by the president of the Republic of China,
Chen Hsiu-Bian. President Chen warmly welcomed the 238 students from 54 countries.
He proclaimed that the spirit of knowledge and learning knows no political boundaries
and that while fate has brought them together, he hoped that the friendships
would remain. The logo for the Olympiad features portraits of Newton and Einstein,
and the number three - corresponding both to the year of the competition and
the prediction of the organizers that the third great physicist is coming soon.
In his address, Shih-Chang Lee, the president of the Physical Society of the
Republic of China, encouraged all the competitors to pursue careers in physics
in hopes that one of them would become this third great physicist. He asked,
"If you have the ability to become a Newton or an Einstein, why become
a doctor or an engineer?" The speeches were interspersed with cultural
performances: Chinese Classical Music by Taipei Youth Chinese Orchestra, Folk
Dancing by the Department of Dance of National Taiwan College of Physical Education,
and Lion Dancing by Ching-Ho Enterprise. The lion presented Waldemar Gorzkowski,
the president of the IPhO, with a pineapple, a symbol of good fortune. Gorzkowski
congratulated the organizers on the work they had done to bring about the competition.
The Olympiad was rescheduled because of SARS, and many things had to be organized
twice. The Minister of Education, Jong-Tsun Huang, reminded them that friendship
is even more important than competition, and that there is a link between physics
and Formosa (beauty).
During breaks from exams, the students and coaches toured historical and scenic areas. They visited Yangmingshan National Park, where the island's tectonically active past was evident in uplifted land and sulfur hot springs. They also saw Yehliu Special Scenic Area on the north coast of Taiwan, where wind and water had carved many highly unusual rock formations. The students visited Leofoo Village Theme Park and the National Museum of Natural Science. Everyone got to visit the National Palace Museum housing the world's finest collection of Chinese art.
Fun with Piezoelectric
Crystals and Liquid Crystal Cells
The students took the five-hour
theoretical exam on Monday, Aug. 4. In their first problem, they analyzed the
motion of a swing with a falling weight. Initially, the string was held horizontal
with one end attached to a pendulum bob and the other end to a cylinder. In
a later part of the problem, a large mass was placed on the other end, and the
bob and mass were allowed to move freely. This models the classic physics demonstration
consisting of a coffee cup, keys, and a pencil. The second problem dealt with
a piezoelectric quartz crystal. Students first analyzed its mechanical properties,
and then analyzed its electromechanical properties. They were asked to describe
the charge distribution when a voltage is applied to electrodes attached to
the crystal. The final theoretical problem consisted of two parts. The students
were required to analyze neutron decay if the anti-neutrino has a small mass
and then to find the laser power needed to levitate a small glass hemisphere.
The experimental competition, consisting of three parts, was held on Wednesday, Aug. 6. Students were first required to determine the appropriate operating range of a laser by measuring laser light intensity using a photodetector. They were asked to determine how this intensity varied with the current supplied to the laser. In the second part, students analyzed the electro-optical switching characteristics of a 90-degree Twisted Nematic Liquid Crystal Cell, a device that rotates the polarization of light by 90 degrees. The students placed the cell between two parallel polarizers and applied an electric field to the cell. A significant electric field causes the molecules to align with the field which diminishes the cell's polarization guiding effect. The students had to measure the light intensity as a function of applied voltage. Finally, they analyzed a homogeneous parallel-aligned Liquid Crystal cell which has different indices of refraction for rays parallel and perpendicular to its molecules. Students needed to investigate the birefringence of the cell and determine the voltage which causes a phase retardation of p.
Symposium with Two Giants
On Friday, Aug. 8, all students and leaders attended a dinner and science symposium. Samuel C.C. Ting, (Ph.D. University of Michigan, Nobel Prize winner in 1976) addressed the audience on My Experience as a Physicist. He presented four life lessons: (1) Do not always follow the opinions of experts. (2) Always keep faith in yourself. Do what you think is right. (3) Be prepared for surprises. (4) Most importantly, be curious. Enjoy what you are doing and try to work hard to achieve your goal.
Paul C. W. Chu (Ph.D. University of California at San Diego), currently the president of Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, gave a talk on the history of superconductivity entitled An Odyssey in the World of Nothingness. His group has found stable superconductivity at a record high temperature.
Closing Ceremony and Farewell Banquet
The closing ceremony, held
on Sunday, Aug. 10, featured cultural performances by the symphony orchestra
of National Taiwan Normal University, by Taipei Chamber Singers, and by the
Department of Dance of Taipei National University of the Arts. The highlight
was the presentation of medals and special prizes. Pavel was presented the First
Prize by Yuan-Tseh Lee, president of Academia Sinica and the 1986 Nobel Laureate
in Chemistry. Lee also gave the closing address. He paraphrased Linus Pauling's
exhortation that science makes progress when young students tell older professors,
"You are wrong." He also told students that "the more mistakes
you make, the more you learn." After an exciting video preview of the 35th
IPhO that will be held in Pohang, Korea next year, Lee declared the 34th Olympiad
The farewell banquet featured
a 12-course meal of Cantonese cuisine. In addition to a variety of musical entertainment,
students were invited to perform. U.S. medalists Daniel Gulotta and Emily Russell
wowed the audience with their swing dancing.
Then it was time to say goodbye to new friends and exchange email addresses with hopes that the friendships will remain.
Mary Mogge, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, CA
Robert Shurtz, Hawken