Hackley students compete in International Physics Olympiad

Senior Connor Larson advanced to the second round after taking tests on non-calculus mechanics


Credit: Tommy Larson

Conor Larson diligently works on a physics project. Larson’s passion for physics inspired him to tackle the subject beyond the classroom. He competed in IPhO this past academic year.

By Tommy Larson, Opinion Editor

Every year the American Association of Physics Teachers and the American Institute of Physics sponsor a competition for high school students to represent the United States at the International Physics Olympiad Competition. Seniors Demetra Yancopoulos, Jasmine Bayrooti, Hanna Mark, and Connor Larson all competed in the contest.

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 (IPhO). The team is selected through a series of exams testing their problem solving abilities. The top 22 finalists are invited to a rigorous study camp at University of Maryland to prepare for the IPhO.

AP Physics teacher and director of the Independent Research Program, Andrew Ying was the faculty advisor who prepared these students to participate in the contest. The four Hackley students participated in an independent study taught by him to get ready to participate in the testing this year. According to Dr. Ying, the goal of the class is to give juniors who took AP Physics in junior year an opportunity to keep doing fun and interesting physics problems.

All four students completed the preliminary exam, also known as the F = ma contest. The contest includes 25 multiple choice questions in 75 minutes focusing on non calculus mechanics. On the test, no points are deducted for incorrect answers. About 400 of the 5600 student who sit for the preliminary exam qualify for the semi-final exam. This year the cut-off was 14 points.  

The USAPhO exam is a free response, calculus-based exam covering all topics in introductory physics: Mechanics, Electricity and Magnetism, Thermodynamics, Fluids, Relativity, Waves, and Nuclear and Atomic Physics. There are two parts in the exam, Part A and Part B; each have 3 problems to do in 90 minutes.

Connor Larson was able to advance to the second round of testing. When talking about this accomplishment, he stated “I was very excited to have the chance to take the second test. Though the problems were extremely challenging, they were also very interesting, and I enjoyed exploring fascinating applications of the Physics skills we’d learned this year. Most of all, I’m incredibly grateful to Dr. Ying for making this amazing experience possible.”

All semi-finalists receive certificates as a reward for their physics skills. However, Connor scored well enough to receive an honorable mention from the American Institute of Physics.

At the rigorous training camp at the University of Maryland, students receive heavy theoretical and experimental training and take a series of tests. Finally, the top five students are selected to represent the United States of America in the International Physics Olympiad.

Dr. Ying was the faculty advisor who prepared these students to participate in the contest is extremely proud of them and stated, “the fact that these students competed and did fairly well is awesome.” He hopes to continue Hackley’s participation in the Physics Olympiad and one day hopes to send a Hackley student to the International Competition.