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

Meet the Team

Photo of David Dai

David Dai

San Jose, CA

The Harker School

Grade: Freshman


Kerbal Space Program, SoundCloud Rap, Dance, Fashion, and Socializing


Harker Conservatory Vocal Music, Crystal Choir Young Men Ensemble, Science Bowl, Mathematics, and Harker Tea Club


2018 Princeton University Physics Competition (PUPC) Gold Medal, 2018 USAPhO Honorable Mention, 2018 Science Bowl National Double Elimination Rounds, and 2018 & 2019 AIME Qualifier


My passion for physics did not start with math, nor was I the stereotypical curious child. I dreamed of becoming a Minecraft YouTuber like SkyDoesMinecraft or DanTDM.

This changed in seventh grade when I tried out for the Science Bowl team. It was one of the first things I was actually good at where I felt fully motivated and pushed my hardest. Harker’s rigorous team selection process cultivated a strong work ethic in me and gave me basic knowledge in all areas of science, a valuable head start for physics. Thank you Ms. Vandana Kadam, my middle school Science Bowl coach, and David Zhu, Alex Young, Kaushik Shivakumar, Leon Lu, Kyle Li, and Emily Liu, the upper school student coaches. You catalyzed my interest in science and taught me perseverance through setbacks.

While my aspiration in science was sparked, I didn’t know what was next. Then two family friends suggested that I attempt the F = ma in eighth grade. Initially, I was intimidated by the idea, especially as a middle schooler, but I took the exam anyway and surprisingly qualified for the USAPhO. I didn’t know much beyond basic mechanics, so I studied physics 24/7 during the two months before the Olympiad and earned an honorable mention. I am forever indebted to Mr. William Whatley and Ms. Jingda Whatley. You spotted my potential, nudged me to give physics a shot, and advised me on the optimal study strategy. One thing led to another, and now I’m going to camp!

Studying intensively made me realize how much I loved physics. My fondest memory from last year’s cram was discovering a proof of the Shoelace theorem using Stokes’ theorem and writing the proof on a dinner napkin at a Chinese restaurant. I love using empirical data and applying mathematics to model interesting and beautiful natural phenomena, such as ocean waves or grape plasma. Unlike competition math, where many problems are abstract and gimmicky, physics is general and rooted to the real world. I couldn’t care less about how many ways Shrek can stack his books on a shelf (Just pick an order Shrek, it doesn’t really matter!), but I do care about how fast a tsunami travels across the Pacific.

I am fortunate to have been at Harker since Kindergarten. The faculty, staff, and administrators are very encouraging and are experts in their areas. A big thank you to Dr. Eric Nelson and Ms. Anu Datar for hosting the USAPhO, especially during spring break. Dr. Mark Brada, you make freshman physics so fun, where everyone can learn so much regardless of prior experience/extracurricular work. Your class has helped me become better at explicating my ideas, which is extremely important.

Most important in this journey are my parents. A psychologist by training and a runner, my mother never puts any pressure on me and often reminds me that “Life is a marathon, enjoy and have a blast along the way.” My father, a material scientist himself, is always there for me to discuss physics with, no matter how busy his work schedule is or what time zone he happens to travel to. His help in my study planning is vital in ensuring rigor, structure, and completeness.

Lastly, a big shout out to the AAPT/AIP and their sponsors for organizing such a high-quality competition! I look forward to working with my teammates and the physicists at the camp!

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Contact Information

For more details and information about the U.S. Physics Team, please contact AAPT's Programs department at 301-209-3340 or programs@aapt.org