The Paly Voice

Paly grad wins gold medal at International Physics Olympiad

Amanda Carlsson and Drew Keller

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Palo Alto High School graduate Jeffrey Yan, won a gold medal and placed 24th overall at the 44th International Physics Olympiad (IPhO) in Copenhagen over the summer, the first time a Paly grad has done so in the prestigious science competition.

Held in Denmark’s capital city from July 7 to 15, this year’s contest hosted students from a total of 83 countries around the world, according to their website. In addition to Yan, who graduated last year, four other high school students from around the U.S. traveled to Copenhagen to compete (one of whom, Calvin Huang, is currently a senior at Gunn High School).

These five only reached IPhO after a rigorous selection process: first, thousands of students across the country take the American Association of Physics Teachers’ “Fnet=ma” exam; then, the top 400 scorers move on to a semifinal exam, and the top 20 on that test attend the nine-day US Physics Team Training Camp at the University of Maryland – College Park. Another Paly student, current senior Grace Lin, made it to the training camp (though she was not selected for the traveling team).

The Olympiad itself consists of a theoretical test section and a practical lab section, both designed to test the maximum scientific capabilities of the contestants (IPhO 2013’s problems can be found on the website). However, Yan had previously attended IPhO as a junior and believes his experience helped him in his good showing this year.

“The test was relatively easy this year but the lab was difficult which was opposite of what I was hoping for since my theory is much stronger than my experimental experience,” Yan said. “I still managed to get a gold medal though, so I was really satisfied.”

The trip to Denmark was not all about science, however; Yan also had time to experience Copenhagan and get to know his competitors, who he described as “really cool people that just happened to share an interest in physics.”

“We played a lot of ping pong, danced and hung out a at several parties, and just got to hang out a lot in general,” he said.

Yan had been involved in math contests and the Math Club since his freshman year of high school, but did not become interested in physics until sophomore year, when he read The Feynman Lectures on Physics, a well-known compilation of lectures given by famed physicist and professor Richard Feynman to students at Caltech.

“I would recommend reading [the Lectures] to anyone who wants to get into physics,” he said.

After developing his new interest in physics, Yan then proceeded to take AP Physics and join the Physics Olympiad team at Paly. He knows physics will be a part of his future in some form, though he has not yet decided what he wants to focus on studying.

“I’m at Harvard right now, and deciding between majoring in math, physics, or [computer science],” he said.

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