Honourable mention for Irish student in 2012 Physics Olympiad

8 August 2012

It was in the historic setting of the Estonian capital of Tallinn that a team of Irish students competed with almost 400 world class young physicists in the 43rd International Physics Olympiad.

The Irish 2012 Physics Olympiad Team

On the Irish team were Dale Hughes (from Ballymena), Horatio Mulholland (from Belfast), Thomas Wyse Jackson and Liam Mulcahy (both from Dublin). In the words of the late IPhO President, Prof. Waldemar Gorkowski, these Celtic warriors competed among “one hectare of physics students” in the exam centre!   

Dale Hughes from Ballymena was awarded an Honourable Mention in this challenging global competition.

Over eighty national teams from countries all over the world took part in the competition. The contest takes the form of a five-hour theoretical exam involving three physics problems and a five-hour experimental exam consisting of either one or two tasks. And for those curious about the physics, which is at the core of the event, most of the questions asked over recent years (and the outline solutions!) are now up on the IPhO website.

Areas of relaxation and fun for the students included the Estonian Open Air Museum near Tallinn, visits to Tartu Adventure Park, the AHHAA Science Centre, and to Rakvere Castle, a reception by the (singing) Mayor of Tartu, swimming in the Baltic sea and a musical session at the historically important Tallinn Song Festival Grounds. 

One of the high points of the week was an engaging lecture by the 1996 Nobel Laureate, Sir Harold Kroto who discovered  C-60.

The questions this year were based on the ballistics underlying landing a projectile onto the very top of a totally spherical building, the physics of airflow around an aeroplane wing, the behaviour of two superconucting magnetic straws, then a critical examination of the Kelvin water dropper, concluding with the physics behind the various stages in cosmic protostar formation. 

David Rea, Kristin Luksaar, Professor Jan Mostowski

The laboratory tasks involved examining, using a laser pointer,  the distortion of a water surface due to a submerged strong magnet, and determining from this the permeability of water. 

The second experiment was a Nonlinear Electrical Black Box containing a tunnel diode. The questions were, as always, challenging but also interesting and stimulating for the students.

Residential training took place in DCU during the spring and early summer, directed by Eamonn Cunningham and David Rea and assisted by staff from the DCU School of  Physics.  

The Institute of Physics in Ireland is pleased to have supported the students and, once again this year, congratulates all involved in this national success in physics.