SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY EDUCATION: International Physics Olympiad advances knowledge and builds connections

Aug. 7, 2007
U.S. Physics Team wins gold and silver medals at international physics competition.


In late July, the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) and the American Institute of Physics (AIP) announced that the students who represented the United States at the 2007 International Physics Olympiad in Isfahan, Iran, earned two gold and three silver medals.

The Olympiad is wonderful event on many levels. Established by a group of eastern European countries in 1965, the International Physics Olympiad Competition gradually grew during the 1970s to include many western countries.

In 1986, the AAPT organized the United States Physics Team for the first time. That year, the U.S. team brought home three bronze medalsmore medals than any team had ever won in its first competition. Since then, the United States has consistently ranked near the top ten of all nations. The mission of the U.S. Physics Team Program is to promote and demonstrate academic excellence through preparation for and participation in the International Physics Olympiad.

The AAPT is responsible for recruiting, selecting, and training teams each year to compete in the international competition. This selection process begins in early January when high school teachers nominate their best students. Each year approximately 200 top scorers on this first test advance to the semifinal round of competition.

A second test, student transcripts, and letters of recommendation are used as the basis for selection of the 24 members of the U.S. Physics Team ( These students, from schools all over the United States, travel to the University of Maryland, College Park, at the end of May for the annual U.S. Physics Team Training Camp. There they engage in nine days of intense studying, testing, and problem solving. At the end of the training, five students are selected for the "Traveling Team." This group participates in additional laboratory work in preparation for the international event.

In 2002, the AAPT and eight other scientific societies, including the Acoustical Society of America, the American Astronomical Society, the American Institute of Biological Sciences, the American Institute of Physics, the American Physical Society, the Optical Society of America, the National Association of Geoscience Teachers, the National Science Teachers Association, and the Triangle Coalition, sent a policy statement to Congress: "We urge Congress to support K-12 science and math education, particularly programs that enable professional development for teachers and preparation of new teachers, by funding the Math and Science Partnership programs at the levels called for in authorizing legislation."

Rep. Rush Holt (physicist and D-NJ) sent a letter "to congratulate and celebrate the achievements of the students of the United States Physics Team." Rep. Vern Ehlers (physicist and R-MI) introduced remarks into the Congressional Record on June 6 "to applaud the achievements of the members of the 2002 United States Physics Olympiad Team . . . I personally want to thank all of the students who made an effort to become a part of this team for showing others that science is and can be fun. Mr. Speaker, I ask my colleagues to join me in saluting these future leaders of our country." Again in 2005, Rep. Ehlers recorded a statement in the Congressional Record, congratulating the team.

Today, the international competition attracts teams from all over the globe. In 2007, participants from more than 60 nations took part in the challenging nine-day event. This 38th competition was held at the Isfahan University of Technology in Iran July 13–22. The team contributed to a blog ( to keep friends and family updated on their time in Iran.

Several of scientific societies, corporations, and individuals help to sponsor the U.S Physics team. To learn more about how you can support this program, please visit The Optical Society of America is an enthusiastic financial sponsor of the Olympiad, as its mission and activities are well aligned with those of the OSA Foundation. For more information on the Olympiad, visit

Grace Klonoski is the senior director of OSA Foundation and Member & Education Services for the Optical Society of America, 2010 Massachusetts Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036; e-mail: [email protected];

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