Actually, the approximately 350 participants of the International Physics Olympiad (IPhO) were supposed to meet in Belarus this year, but everything changed because of the Ukraine war.
Thanks to the initiative of dedicated Swiss volunteers at short notice, the student competition could be held online from July 10 to 18. Eight delegations also met on site in Denmark. Among them were the Swiss students, who received four awards:
- Adrian Serrano Capatina (Ecole Internationale de Genève, GE)
- Bruno Pontecorvo (Institut International de Lancy, GE)
- Lucio Ineichen (Kantonsschule Uetikon am See, ZH)
- Luis Jost (Old Cantonal School Aarau, AG)
- Piranavan Subaharan (Kantonsschule Schaffhausen, SH)
Adrian won bronze. Bruno, Luis and Piranavan were awarded honorable mentions.
A slightly different IPhO
When the International Physics Olympiad planned in Belarus was cancelled in spring, it was clear to the volunteers of the Swiss Physics Olympiad: Talented young people should have the chance to participate in the IPhO again this year. Together with a team of motivated volunteers from all over the world, they quickly set up a virtual version of the competition. At least for the participants from Austria, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Sweden, Iceland, Israel and Switzerland, the IPhO was not limited to the screen. They spent the week together in Denmark. "We couldn't have done it without international help," says organizer Nicolà Gantenbein. "For me, that's what makes IPhO: It's a cooperation between many countries and cultures."
Formulas, song lyrics and baking recipes
Swiss participants were able to exchange ideas with like-minded people from "only" seven other countries, instead of encountering some 70 delegations. But this family-style mini-IPhO certainly had its advantages, Bruno finds. "It actually gave me a chance to meet and talk to everyone," he says. The highlight? "On the last day, we found a music room and just played music for four or five hours straight." That the teens at IPhO have other talents besides physics was evident over and over again during the week in Denmark. There were multilingual karaoke nights, trips to local attractions, sports, campfires and dessert specialties from eight countries.
On July 11 and 13, it was time to get serious. In two five-hour exams, one experimental, the other theoretical, young talents from all over the world put their knowledge to the test. In one task, they had to imagine they had landed on an unknown planet. With the help of simulation software and some information, they had to determine various properties of the planet, for example its mass or the wind speed on its surface. Another task dealt with the physics behind the James Webb telescope, whose images had made headlines in the same week. To do well in the exams, the students needed a systematic approach as well as knowledge from different fields, for example magnetism, optics, mechanics, or vacuum technology.
University of Bern