SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY EDUCATION: 2010 US Physics Olympiad

Oct. 18, 2010
Spotlight on inspiring the next generation of scientists and business leaders.

Some of the top high school physics students in the United States participated in the 41st International Physics Olympiad, bringing home one gold, two silver, and two bronze medals. The nine-day international competition, held this year from July 17 - 25 in Zagreb, Croatia, attracted over 400 pre-university students from more than 82 nations.

The winning US students in each category were: Gold - Daniel Li, a senior at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Alexandria, VA; Silver - Eric Spieglan, a sophomore at Naperville North High School, Naperville, IL and Anand Oza, a senior at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, MD.; Bronze - Jenny Lu, a senior at Pomperaug High School in Southbury, CT and David Field, of Andover, MA, a senior at the Phillips Andover Academy in Andover, MA.

The students were members of the US Physics Team, which is selected each year in a rigorous national competition sponsored by the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) and the American Institute of Physics (AIP). The selection process began with an exam given to outstanding science students from around the country that included such upper level skills as the Lagrangian Formula of Mechanics, Differential Calculus for Electricity and Magnetism, and Complex Variables, skills usually learned at the end of the undergraduate studies. The 400 top scorers advanced through quarter-final and semi-final rounds, resulting in the final team of 20 students.

The 2010 team members attended a 10-day training camp at the University of Maryland-College Park where, through classes, labs, and special lectures, they were coached on difficult physics concepts and then took a series of exams. After a final exam, five members were selected from the group as the Traveling Team to represent the US at the Olympiad; they returned to College Park for three additional days of intense laboratory work before competing in the international event.

While at the training camp, the team made a trip to nearby Washington, DC to visit their Congressional representatives and senators. The students met with the three members of Congress who are also physicists – Rep. Rush D. Holt (D-NJ-12th), Rep. Vern Ehlers, (R-MI-3rd), and Rep. Bill Foster (D-IL-14th) – and applauded them for serving as role models for students entering scientific professions. The Congressional visit is an annual event that is designed to teach students to communicate with legislators and others who don’t usually hear about science. The visit also serves to remind members of Congress of the importance of science and math education in the U.S.

The first International Physics Olympiad was organized in 1967 in Eastern Europe. Western nations began competing in the 1970s, and the U.S. Physics Olympiad Program was started in 1986 by AAPT to promote and demonstrate academic excellence through preparation for and participation in the International Physics Olympiad. It continues to be supported as a joint initiative between AAPT, AIP, and the member societies of the American Institute for Physics: Acoustical Society of America, American Association of Physicists in Medicine, American Astronomical Society, American Crystallographic Society, American Geophysical Union, American Physical Society, AVS – Science and Technology of Materials, Interfaces, and Processing, Optical Society America, and the Society of Rheology.

The US Physics Team is sponsored by private donors and the member societies of the American Institute for Physics. Contributions support the team’s selection, training, and travel.

The 41st International Physics Olympiad was organized by the Croatian Physical Society and the University of Zagreb as the co-organizer, under the financial support of the Ministry of Science, Education and Sports of the Republic of Croatia, and the City of Zagreb.

AAPT is an international organization for physics educators, physicists, and industrial scientists with more than 10,000 members worldwide. Dedicated to enhancing the understanding and appreciation of physics through teaching, AAPT provides awards, publications, and programs that encourage teaching practical application of physics principles, support continuing professional development, and reward excellence in physics education. AAPT was founded in 1930 and is headquartered in the American Center for Physics in College Park, Maryland.

The OSA Foundation (OSAF) was established in 2002 to support philanthropic activities that help further the Optical Society's mission by concentrating its efforts on programs that advance youth science education, provide optics and photonics education to underserved populations, provide career and professional development resources and support awards & honors that recognize technical and business excellence. The grants funded by the OSA Foundation are made possible by the generous donations of its supporters as well as the dollar-for-dollar match by OSA. The Foundation is exempt from U.S. federal income taxes under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code and is a public charity.

GRACE KLONOSKI is the Senior Director, Foundation, Membership & Education Services for the Optical Society of America, 2010 Massachusetts Ave, NW, Washington, DC 20036; e-mail: [email protected]; www.osa-foundation.org.

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