World’s brightest youth aim for physics glory in Tel Aviv

The international event is organized and supported by the Education Ministry, with Tel Aviv University's School of Physics and Astronomy responsible for its academic program.

July 8, 2019 17:49
2 minute read.
World’s brightest youth aim for physics glory in Tel Aviv

IPhO president Dr. Rajdeep Singh Rawat, chair of the academic committee Prof. Alexander Palevski and chair of the 2019 IPho organizing committee Dr. Eli Raz. (photo credit: Courtesy)


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Almost 400 of the world’s brightest young scientific minds from 78 countries landed in Tel Aviv this week for the 50th International Physics Olympiad (IPhO), which officially got under way on Sunday.

An annual celebration of academic excellence, IPhO is the world’s leading physics competition for high school students, and is taking place in Israel for the first time since its establishment in 1967.

The young contestants who won national Olympiads in their respective countries will be given five hours on Tuesday to tackle three theoretical problems, and five hours on Thursday to solve two experimental problems. The questions were developed over nearly two years, and are within the academic boundaries of the students’ high school curriculum.

In between examinations the young physics prodigies will tour the country, from the Dead Sea to hiking national parks.
The international event is organized and supported by the Education Ministry, while Tel Aviv University’s School of Physics and Astronomy is responsible for the academic programming.

“Every child wants to excel in something, and that’s the motor force behind the Olympiad,” Prof. Alexander Palevski, chair of the contest’s academic committee and TAU professor, told The Jerusalem Post. “They want to participate and win competitions, but the Olympiad also serves a very important purpose. It popularizes sciences, and physics is the ‘queen’ of sciences. An international event receiving so much attention influences many young students.”

Gold, silver, and bronze medals will be awarded to students that excel, with almost half of the participants likely to be awarded a medal. The winners, including an absolute winner, will be announced on Sunday.

China’s Yang Tianhua took the top spot at the event in Lisbon in 2018.

“It took us almost two years to pose the right questions,” said Palevski. “On one hand, the problem has to be realistically challenging, but on the other hand, the problem has to be solvable within the high school syllabus. Those not winning a gold medal are truly outstanding people, even if not everyone becomes a great physicist in the future.”

Last month, a group of 20 pro-BDS scientists – including former Hebrew University Prof. Emmanuel Dror Farjoun – wrote an open letter to IPhO organizers calling for the Tel Aviv contest to be called off over human rights concerns.

Palevski said that organizers were unanimous in their rejection of the calls to cancel the Olympiad. “The best approach was to just completely ignore the letter, and we had the full support of the entire international board,” said Palevski. “Nobody canceled their attendance or put the idea of canceling the event to a vote. Everybody rejected it.”

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