Sunday, 5 July 2015

Day 1 - Sunday 5th July (Introduction and Opening Ceremony)

Welcome to my daily blog of the 2015 International Physics Olympiad (or ‘IPhO’ for short). My name is Matt, and I’m one of the members of the UK delegation currently (at time of writing) in Mumbai, India for this year’s competition.
Mahim Bay, Mumbai
We’ll begin with a disclaimer (of sorts) - No advanced knowledge of pre-university physics is required for following this blog. I’m writing this as an educator to enlighten those interested (whoever you may be!) into the superb work that is put in every year to stretching and challenging our most able pre-university students (nationally and internationally) in a variety of subjects, not just physics. Even the film industry has recently ventured into this world, as you will soon see…
So, what is an ‘IPhO’? The International Physics Olympiad was devised as an annual competition for the most able pre-university physics students from across the globe. This came about to recognise  the growing significance of physics in all fields of science and technology, and in the general education of young people, and with the aim of enhancing the development of international contacts in the field of school education in physics – and it has certainly been successful in achieving that over the 46 years it has been running. Students are selected by a variety of means, depending on their home country, but all eligible students within a country should have access to the selection process – in the UK we use a series of national competition exams and a training camp with further exams.

Up to five students may represent each country, and two team leaders (i.e. staff) oversee their time at the IPhO. Students attending the IPhO are assessed on their competency on both physics theory and practical skills through two 5 hour papers. Students are then be awarded medals depending on their performance, e.g. Gold medals are awarded to roughly 8% of constants, Gold or Silver to 25%, etc. (for more information, please see There are similar competitions for other disciplines, such as Mathematics, Chemistry, Biology, etc. A 2014 film ‘x + y’ (directed by Morgan Matthews) nicely dramatizes some aspects of these competitions through the eyes of a UK student wanting to compete in the International Mathematics Olympiad (IMO) – this was rather appropriately one of the in-flight movies on our flight out to India, which our students could certainly relate to parts of, at least when they weren’t avidly working on solving physics problems at 33,000 ft.

Each IPhO is hosted by a different participating county, and this year the 2015 IPhO is hosted by India in the vibrant city of Mumbai. This year’s hosts and organisers have done a magnificent job of coordinating accommodation, etc. and scheduling the programme of events for the students and staff. I’m going to try give you a flavour of what is happening each day over the course of the competition, which runs from 5th – 12th July 2015.

Taxis in Mumbai
As to the person writing this blog? I’m a lecturer of physics (amongst many other things) at Truro and Penwith College, one of the largest education providers (not just of physics, not by a long way) in the beautiful county of Cornwall in the United Kingdom ( Our physics provision is almost entirely at A Level standard, and my involvement in Olympiad competitions has come about through some of the many additional activities we run for our students (primarily the various competitions of the British Physics Olympiad – please see

So whether you are a physicist, educator or just happen to be interested, I hope you find the blog insightful.
A few lines to get you to speed with what’s been going on so far:

The UK students arrive in India
The UK delegation arrived in Mumbai around 2 am local time on Saturday morning, we checked into our accommodation and then spent Saturday a) checking our students were settled at their hotel, b) registering the team for the competition, and c) meeting various representatives of other countries here, such as having dinner with Paul and David, team leaders from the USA (who sportingly sat with us, considering it was US Independence Day) discussing the different ways we select and support our respective teams for each IPhO.

Sunday included a light lunch with the two Finnish team leaders, Lasse and Matti, again along with Paul from the USA where we shared stories on the trials of international travel, visa applications and the vastly different cuisines from our home countries.
Classical Indian dancing
The main event was the Opening Ceremony, where the 46th annual IPhO was officially opened, which involved speeches on subjects such as a welcome to India, the purpose of the IPhO, noted Indian physicists Satyendra Nath Bose and Homi Bhabha (after whom the host organisation, the Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education is named) and a cultural programme comprising of a fusion of seven styles of classical Indian dance and a Kathak Dance that illustrated Hindu stories, such as the story of Krishna and Kaliya Naag (a king cobra). The day was rounded off with dinner comparing pre-university physics education with Vidar, the team leader from Iceland.  

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