The 31st Physics Olympiad ended on Saturday (July 15) with a 5-strong team of 16-17 year-old-physics students from China gaining a clean sweep of gold medals.
The competition, held at the University of Leicester, brought together the top students from 63 nations - the largest ever entry.
The (unofficial) final table, scoring 4 points for a gold medal, 3 for a silver, 2 for bronze and 1 for a high commendation, shows China, Russia and Hungary in the first 3 places. India, Iran and Taiwan share joint 4th, with the UK in 15th position (with the Czech Republic).
The medal ceremony was led by the President of the British Physics Olympiad Committee, Sir Martin Rees. Medals were presented by Nobel Laureates Sir Harry Kroto and Professor Anthony Hewish, and Professor Ken Pounds, Head of Physics at Leicester.
Commenting on the outcome, Professor Pounds said: “The standards had been extremely high, which augured well for the future of physics internationally”.
Reflecting on the dominance of the Asian teams, Professor Pounds said it had to be recognised that “in many western nations, including Britain, there has been a move away from physics in schools, partly as it is perceived to be ‘difficult’, but undoubtedly due to inadequate teaching provision in many state schools, with a recent Institute of Physics report showing that in only a third of schools was physics taught by a physics graduate.”
Although several thousand students took part in the national competition for the British Olympiad team, relatively few were from the state sector.
Sir Martin Rees, President of the UK Physics Olympiad Committee said at the closing ceremony:
“Physics is an endeavour that links all cultures on earth. But we’d share it with intelligent aliens, if they exist—and if they do, some would be advanced enough to win the Interplanetary Physics Olympiad. Indeed they may already have settled key questions that still flummox physicists on Earth—grand unified theories and the like.
“Physics is a key to understanding the world. But it’s also crucial in changing the world we live in. If someone from the year 1900 were transported by a time machine into the present, they’d be amazed by computers, satellites, mobile phones, and so forth—all of which are spin-offs from 20th century physics.
“We can’t predict the 21st century. But I’ll make some guesses. There’s a real chance that someone of your generation—maybe even one of you—will walk on Mars within 20 years. But there will then be less actual need to travel, even here on Earth.
“Within 10 years we’ll have ready access, wherever we are, to all the books and scientific data in the world. These advances will be a real boost to science, because a far wider international community will be able to participate in scientific discovery. The benefit will be greatest for those of you who come from countries where resources and scientific careers are now limited. You’ll be able to do cutting edge science, and use your talents to the full, wherever you are most needed.
“Because of these advances in communication, future Olympiads could, I suppose, be held via screens and computers: the competitors could all stay at home. But I hope that your experiences this week have convinced you that this would be a loss - that ‘real’ reality can be better than ‘virtual’ reality —and that you’ve enjoyed actually getting together in one place, meeting each other, and seeing something of England.”
Note to newsdesk: FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE CONTACT PROFESSOR KEN POUNDS ON 0116 252 3574.
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