Thursday, 16 July 2015

Day 8 (and beyond) - Sunday 12th July (Closing Ceremony and Final Thoughts...)

The 2015 IPhO culminated with the official closing ceremony, held at the Indian Institute for Technology (IIT) in Mumbai. The UK students did superbly in the competition, with two students gaining Silver medals (putting them in the top 25% of competitors) and three gained Bronze medals (putting them in the top 50% of competitors).

Final 46th IPhO results for UK students:

UK Student
 2015 IPhO Medal
UK School
Jared Jeyaretnam
Westminster School
Jamie Bamber
The Perse School
Robert Swan
Queen Elizabeth’s School
Deaglan Bartlett
St Paul’s Catholic College
Bianca Andrei
Chigwell School

The UK students discover their results just before the closing ceremony.

The UK team at the 46th IPhO closing ceremony
Additional to this success, Bianca Andrei was the 4th highest scoring female in the competition, second highest female from Europe, and is also eligible to compete in next year’s 47th IPhO as she represented the UK this year whilst in the lower sixth. Bianca hopes to successfully gain a place to study Natural Sciences at Cambridge University after completing her A Levels next year, and also has the aim to represent the UK next year at the 2016 IPhO, hoping to achieve the accolade of highest scoring female. Jared, Jamie, Robert and Deaglan all completed their A Levels this summer before competing in the 2015 IPhO, and all have been offered places to study Natural Sciences at Cambridge University, which we are very confident in them achieving. Also, a special mention should go to Taehyoung Kim of the Republic of Korea, who was the highest scoring competitor of the 2015 IPhO.
Following the closing ceremony there was a celebratory dinner at a local hotel, and the UK team returned home the following day with many fond memories of such an unforgettable experience, from the honour of representing their country in such a prestigious competition, to the enjoyment gained from spending time with competitors from so many other counties.

The success of the UK would not be achieved without the considerable intelligence and hard work put in by our students, as well as the substantial support programme put in place by all of the BPhO team, led by Robin Hughes of King’s College School.

Finally, I must end on extending a huge thank you India for hosting such a memorable 46th International Physics Olympiad – the organisation and attention to our stay in Mumbai was superb.

We look forward to the 47th IPhO in Switzerland and Liechtenstein in 2016.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Day 7 - Saturday 11th July (Relaxation or Many Meetings...)

Today the UK students spent the day relaxing in the hotel grounds and carried out some souvenir shopping in Mumbai. All in all, a pretty quiet day for them – but well deserved after such a busy week.

Meanwhile, team leaders and observers have been involved in various meetings through the day.

Firstly, there was the grading meeting to announce the boundaries for the awarding of medals and honourable mentions. Nominally, 8% of students are awarded Gold, 25% are awarded Silver or better, 50% are awarded Bronze or better, and 67% are awarded an IPhO medal or honourable mention.

Secondly, each country had several 20 minute meetings with members of the academic committee to discuss any disagreement with marking of each component of the two examination papers.

Finally, there was an IPhO international board meeting to ratify the results of the 2015 IPhO, consider any motions put forward (such as amendments to the IPhO syllabus or protocol and procedures) and to look ahead to the 2016 IPhO in Switzerland and Liechtenstein. Meetings finally concluded at midnight, with an early start the next day for the closing ceremony.

Hosting an IPhO takes considerable organising, and earlier in the week I discussed the many potential challenges faced by the host nation (such as securing funding, coordination of accommodation and travel for representatives of multiple countries, etc.) over lunch with Simon, an observer from Switzerland, who is greatly involved in the planning for the 2016 IPhO, and Eli and Pavel, team leaders from Israel, who will host the 2019 IPhO.
In tomorrow's final entry I'll be discussing the results of the UK students, and the competitors in general, and reflecting on this 46th IPhO.

Friday, 10 July 2015

Day 6 - Friday 10th July (Adlabs Imagica Amusement Park and Theory Examination Marking)

'The Scream Machine' at Imagica
(Source 1)
Following a week of hard work, the students have spent today at the Adlabs Imagica amusement park, promoted by renowned Indian entrepreneur, Manmohan Shetty, who founded Adlabs Films Ltd – one of India’s largest film and media companies. The Indian film industry is of great cultural significance to the country, with Mumbai’s ‘Bollywood’ (from ‘Bombay’, the old name for Mumbai, and ‘Hollywood’) being one of the most well known internationally.

In fact, one of the most famous Bollywood personalities, Sharukh Khan, lives only a short distance from the team leaders’ hotel in the Bandra district of Mumbai. As well as being known for his acting and producing, Sharukh Khan is also owner of the popular IPL Kolkota Knight Riders cricket team.

Meanwhile, team leaders and observers have been carefully marking each of the UK students’ scripts from the theoretical examination. As with the practical examination, each paper was completed over five hours, so this is a substantial task to complete. Once completed and checked, we submit our marks alongside those awarded by the organisers to allow moderation of marks tomorrow (Friday) and awarding of medals (details to follow!).

When not marking, some team leaders, observers and visitors also went on a short visit to the production factory of Godrej Locking Solutions and Systems, a well-known brand throughout India.

Source 1:

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Day 5 - Thursday 9th July (Theoretical Examination and Sanjay Gandhi National Park)

Today the students undertook their second (and final) competitive task of the week – the theoretical examination that was ratified in Wednesday’s international board meeting. The theoretical examination is comprised of three questions (which have multiple subsections) and lasts five hours.

The Sun imaged in extreme UV
(Source 1)
The first question asked the students to consider how we can determine information about a star from the particles emitted from it. Students began by using information about photons (particles of electromagnetic radiation, i.e. light) to determine some information about the Sun (such as its surface temperature), how we can capture the Sun’s energy using solar cells and then, by using the Kelvin Helmholtz hypothesis, estimate how long the Sun has been emitting electromagnetic radiation for. Following this, the students then considered other subatomic particles (called neutrinos) to prove that the Sun has nuclear fusion occurring in its core and to make further calculations, including an estimate of the temperature of the core of the Sun.

Refraction of light through glass
(Source 2) 
The second question was about a concept called the ‘extremum principle’, which the students first applied to moving objects to derive various equations to explain the object’s motion. Secondly, the extremum principle was then applied to optics to determine equations that are common to the study of refraction. Thirdly, the extremism principle was applied to the work by de Broglie to consider the wave nature of matter, such electrons (particles) demonstrating diffraction (classically considered to be a wave phenomenon).

Tarapur Nuclear Reactors 3 & 4
(Source 3)
The third question was inspired by India’s nuclear energy programme, specifically the Tarapur 3 and 4 nuclear reactors in Thane, West India, to consider the nuclear fission process (i.e. splitting of atomic nuclei) and structural design of a nuclear reactor. The students were required to make calculations about the nuclear fuel pins, the neutron moderator and the reactor itself. This question paid homage to the Department of Atomic Energy, who have been instrumental in supporting the organisation and hosting of this year’s IPhO in India.

Monkeys (rhesus macaque) in the SGNP
Meanwhile, the team leaders, observers and visitors went on an excursion to the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) to see the Kanheri caves and its surrounding wildlife (including many monkeys). There is a stark contrast between the 104 square kilometres of forest and hills that make up the park and the vast surrounding city of Mumbai and its suburbs that is home to roughly 20 million inhabitants.

Kanheri caves in the SGNP
The Kanheri caves are a number of Buddhist settlements excavated into the basalt rock from around the 4 century BC. This visit is was another reminder of the vibrant religious diversity of India, which include significant numbers of people practising Hinduism, Islam, Sikh, Buddhism, Christianity and Jainism, as well as having smaller numbers practising Parsi and Judaism. In fact, with India’s national population of around 1.3 billion citizens, India has the second largest Muslim population in the world (after Indonesia) - contributing around 11% of the total practising Muslims across the globe.

The day finished off with students and team leaders meeting up for dinner and discussions of the week so far, as all examinations have now taken place. The UK team were in good spirits, enthusiastically discussing both examinations as well as their impressions of India and how they have particularly enjoyed spending time with students from the other countries at the 2015 IPhO.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Day 4 - Wednesday 8th July (TIFR/South Mumbai and Theoretical Examination Meeting)

The TIFR (Source 1)
Today has been a relaxation day for the students following the considerable efforts they put in during the five hour practical examination yesterday. They began their day with a tour of South Mumbai (similar to the one the team leaders went on yesterday), followed by a visit to the Tata Institute for Fundamental Research (TIFR); one of India’s foremost research institutions for mathematics and the sciences.
The TIFR was originally set up by Homi Bhabha and J. R. D. Tata in 1945 and, as well as carrying out world class research, is also one of India’s most renowned universities. Notable research at the TIFR includes significant contributions to the study of Riemann surfaces by the School of Mathematics, research on gravitational waves, gauge theory and particle physics by the School of Natural Sciences, as well as the construction of India’s first digital computer in 1957.

Meanwhile, team leaders, observers and academic staff have been involved in the second closed IPhO international board meeting to discuss and ratify the theory examination paper to be sat by the students on Thursday. Again, this was a long process, with it 1 am before the UK papers were ready, with many countries still translating the paper into their native language hours later. As before, the subject of the paper can’t be discussed until the students have sat the examination, but details of the questions posed will follow soon.

Marking practical examinations!
Alongside the meeting we’ve been very carefully marking each of the UK students’ scripts from the practical examination. Each paper was completed over five hours, so doing this for all five students takes considerable time! We submit our marks alongside those awarded by the organisers in order to facilitate moderation of marks towards the end of the week - so attention to detail is particularly important when we carry out our marking.
Source 1:

Day 3 - Tuesday 7th July (Practical Examination and South Mumbai Visit)

Today the students undertook their first competitive task of the week – the experimental examination that was ratified in Monday’s international board meeting. The practical examination was based around two applications of diffraction.

"Photo 51" (Source 1)
The first application was inspired by the work of noted British scientist Rosalind Franklin. Franklin oversaw the use of X-ray diffraction to investigate the structural properties of DNA and the findings, shown here through the famous image “Photo 51”, were the basis that led Crick and Watson to discover its characteristic double helix shape. In the examination the students modelled this approach by determining parameters of two helical samples (a small, thin spring and a double helix cross-section), using diffraction of visible light from a laser source.
Diffraction of visible light (Source 2)
The second application used a phenomenon where a diffraction pattern can be obtained from waves on the surface of a liquid. In the second experiment students used a loudspeaker attached to a plastic plate to set up regular waves on sample of water and then, by again diffracting visible light from a laser source, were able to determine the surface tension and viscosity of the water in the sample.

Monsoon season in Mumbai
Whilst the students were sitting their experimental examination, the team leaders, observers and visitors were treated to a tour of South Mumbai, which included notable sights including the Gateway of India and the University of Mumbai, and also included a monsoon season downpour. It felt quite like being back in the UK with the torrential rain, although admittedly with considerably higher humidity. Following this, we the visited the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Museum, which contains over 50,000 exhibits on art, archaeology and natural history relevant to the region, such as artefacts from the Indus Valley civilisation.

Source 1: (Photo 51)
Source 2: (Dragonlasers)

Monday, 6 July 2015

Day 2 - Monday 6th July (Nehru Science Centre and Practical Examination Meeting)

Today the students went on a visit to the Nehru Science Centre and Planetarium, a planned scientific and cultural excursion before the examinations start. The centre was commissioned in 1977, and has become a hub for the astronomy research community. The centre also hosts the “Discovery of India” exhibition, inspired by the book of the same name by Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of free India. Nehru was a key member of the movement against colonialism, and the exhibition depicts the changes to India’s socio-political scenario over time.

The students are now in a full communication blackout for around four days, as the first examination papers are now under review (see below), and clearly it is important that students are not provided with any information that they could unfairly use to their advantage. The blackout will end towards the end of Thursday, after they have sat the theoretical examination. Students aren't even allowed contact with home during this time!

The meeting about to get underway
Meanwhile, team leaders, organisers, academic staff and observers have been in a closed IPhO international board meeting to ratify the question paper for the experimental examination. This was a long process that took the UK delegation almost 13 hours to be satisfied with the paper, although some teams worked considerably longer to translate the paper (originally written in English) into their native language. Obviously we can’t give any details on what is included at this stage as the students will be sitting the examination tomorrow (Tuesday), but an overview of the paper will follow in tomorrow’s entry.
The process of ratification did involve many informal discussions with delegates from other countries, including Puerto Rico, Denmark, Columbia, Germany and Brazil, to name just a few.