Anand Natarajan, 2009 Harker graduate, earned a gold medal in Mexico at the 2009 International Physics Olympiad (IPhO) in mid-July. The five-person U.S team earned four golds and a silver, tying for second with India and Korea, and coming in behind the Chinese team, which earned five gold medals.
In May, when selected as one of the 19 final qualifiers for the Olympiad team, Natarajan (on far left in the team photo) was forced to choose between attending the team’s preparation camp and his own graduation, and chose the preparation camp. “It was a tough call to skip graduation, but I think it was worth it,” he said. “I really enjoyed my experience with the physics Olympiad, and I think it’s helped me realize that physics is the subject I’m most passionate about.”
Over 300 students from about 70 countries participated. Problems included questions on tidal friction in the Earth-Moon system, laser cooling and determining the minimum radius for a stable main sequence star.
“The toughest part of the examination was the first question on the experimental portion,” said Natarajan. “It was necessary to get a really good alignment of all the optical components we were using to be able to get good measurements and that took a lot of time. Also, the official IPhO-supplied calculator was somewhat difficult to use, which really slowed me down throughout the exam.”
Tidal friction aside, “The most fun thing about the competition was probably just the experience of being with other young people who share my interest in physics,” said Natarajan. “I also really enjoyed some of the excursions to the Mayan archeological sites that the Mexican organizers planned for us.”
Natarajan has one other activity before he starts at Stanford in the fall: three days after he returned from Mexico he left for the Linguistics Olympiad in Wrocław, Poland, held July 26-31.