2012 team

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The Olympiad is a nine-day international competition among pre-university students from more than 60 nations. — AAPT.ORG

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Team Facts & News

In 1986, under the direction of the AAPT Executive Officer, Jack Wilson, the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) organized the United States Physics Team for the first time. — AAPT.ORG

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Photo of Samuel Nicoll

Samuel Nicoll

Alexandria, VA

Thomas Jefferson HS for Sci-Tech

Grade: Senior


Tae Kwon Do, running, puzzles, card games, video games, math/physics problems


Physics Team, Senior Computer Team, Math Team


National Merit Scholarship recipient, AIME (2012), USA Physics Olympiad Semifinalist (2011), USACO


I have always loved math, even from a very early age. I was good at it in school, and it was always my favorite subject. My interest in math only grew the more I learned. In high school, I was able to learn calculus, linear algebra, complex analysis, and other branches of math that made me see the subject in a whole new light. I'm a fan of puzzles, and I realized that everything in math was itself a puzzle. There were always multiple ways to solve the problems, each requiring a degree of ingenuity and creativity. I had always thought of math just as a fun hobby, but I now saw why it was considered an art. I've found that physics, being deeply intertwined with math, has many of the qualities that appeal to me in math.

I also think a lot about how things work. I would be intrigued by the most commonplace of things, with thoughts like, "What exactly is a microwave, and why can it be used to cook food?" or, "How do light bulbs produce light? What even is light?" As I grew, I would learn the answers to some of my questions, only to have them replaced by many more that remain mysteries. I am drawn to physics because it is this desire to understand and answer the unanswered questions that drives physics.

I enjoy physics because it attempts to explain why things work the way that they do, and it most often does so using the elegant language of math. I was somewhat interested in physics when I was younger from watching the Discovery Channel or sometimes reading a magazine article, but I didn't actually have any experience in physics until my junior year of high school. I regarded the AP Physics class I took that year to be perhaps the best class I had ever taken. I realized that the universe was much more complicated than I originally thought, and was surprised by how mathematical things were at their most fundamental level. I was so thrilled, I quickly joined the physics team at my school, went through the painful process of changing my second semester classes to fit in other physics courses, and even signed up for my first USA Physics Olympiad, where I surprisingly made it to the semifinals. I've become passionate enough about physics these past few years that I will be majoring in it in college next year.

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