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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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Kevin Zhu

San Jose, CA

The Harker School

Grade: Senior


Clarinet, piano, reading, programming, chess, solving puzzles, taming dragons


Orchestra, linguistics club, math club


U.S. Physics Olympiad finalist, USAJMO, NACLO semifinalist, HMMT, ARML, Physics Bowl


I've always been passionate about astronomy. As a kid, I peppered visits to the planetarium with questions about the moons of Jupiter and the Voyager spacecraft. These anxious desires for explanations were usually satisfied by a teacher's response or a web search, but my fascination with the cosmos remained: the birth and structure of the immense Universe continued to intrigue me without end. Yet I knew little about the physics behind these phenomena--only qualitative facts about various concepts such as gravity. My endeavors with an amateur telescope also provided me with similar opportunities to explore the night sky, and a lack of good lenses only left me pondering about space even more.

I joined Harker in high school and took my first physics course in my freshman year, in which I was immediately captivated by how seemingly convoluted ideas, such as the orbits of planets, could be broken down into a system of equations using only a few fundamental laws. My past experience with math competitions, as well as a desire to challenge myself, prompted me to take the F = ma exam. I unexpectedly qualified for the semifinal exam, although my performance on the second-round questions was hardly spectacular. My placement into a calculus course that year also prepared me to take AP Physics C, which exposed me to more advanced concepts such as Maxwell's equations. I'm currently taking a course in modern physics, which answered many astronomy questions I had and much more.

Aside from competitions, I was also involved with astrophysics research the previous two summers at the University of California, Santa Cruz. I studied the relationship between the activity of an active galactic nucleus, which typically emits radiation from an accretion disc generated by all the infalling, compressed matter extracted from the galaxy by its black hole, and the formation of stars elsewhere in the galaxy. This experience proved to be incredibly insightful and allowed me to conduct actual scientific research firsthand.

I would mainly like to thank my AP Physics C and modern physics teacher, Dr. Nelson, for supplying me with the physics essentials that allowed me to progress to where I am today. I plan to study at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the fall, but in the meantime, I look forward to attending the training camp again and working with all the other team members!

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