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Physics Olympiad Finalists Selected After Week-Long "Boot Camp"

After nine days of intensive training and competition, the five members of the 2003 US Physics Olympiad Team have been selected, along with one alternate. Twenty-four high school students from around the country attended the annual "physics boot camp" at the University of Maryland, College Park, where they worked on their problem-solving and laboratory skills. The finalists will represent the US at the 34th International Physics Olympiad, to be held July 12-21 in Taipei, Taiwan.

The finalists are Timothy Abbott, a senior at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Arlington, VA; Pavel Batrachenko, a senior at John Marshall High School in Rochester, MN; Steven Byrnes, a senior at Roxbury Latin School in West Roxbury, MA; Immanuel Buder, also a senior at Thomas Jefferson in Arlington; and Chintain Hossain, a senior at the Charter School of Wilmington, Delaware. Emily Russell, a senior at Choate Rosemary Hall in Wallingford, CT, was selected as alternate. Almost all are planning on attending Harvard, CalTech, or MIT next year.

The nine-day boot camp, which began on May 17 and ran through May 25, was jam-packed with seven exams and seven labs, as well as classes and lectures delivered by prominent scientists. Topics covered in the lectures included microchip fabrication, how scanning probe microscopes can advance nanosci-ence, and how observations of the Sun from space are providing scientists with new views of the Sun.

Hailing from 14 different states, the 24 students-five of them female-competing in the boot camp were selected from a pool of more than 1,400 students who were nominated by their high school physics teachers to take the Olympiad physics exams. "These students are inspiring," said Bernard Khoury, executive officer of the American Association of Physics Teachers, which co-sponsored the competition along with the American Institute of Physics. "Each year I am more amazed at what these teenagers have already accomplished, and what they will accomplish in the future.

In addition to the usual round of scholarships, academic awards and other medals and honors won by each of the students, this year's group boasts a published poet, a budding politician, and a student who speaks six languages fluently and taught himself physics from course material found on MIT web sites when he was just 10 years old.

While in the Washington, DC, area, the 24 students took photos at the Einstein statue at the National Academy of Sciences. They also toured the National Air and Space Museum and met with officials of NASA and other federal agencies at a special reception in the Rayburn House Office Building on May 20. The reception was co-sponsored by the only two physicists in the House of Representatives, Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) and Rush Holt (D-NJ), both of whom spoke briefly, highlighting the importance of science education and wishing the students luck. It was followed by a ceremony featuring remarks by the DOE's Peter Faletra and Norman Neureiter, science advisor to Colin Powell. Also on hand was John Mather of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, who highlighted [in his keynote address] the upcoming next- generation James Webb Space Telescope, currently under development.

But it wasn't all work for the participating students. They played frisbee—in the mud, thanks to the constant rain—and various card games, and formed friendships that they hope will prove to be lasting ones. For most, the experience was more fun than onerous. "When I first got [to the camp], I was really scared that I would be in a camp full of boring and esoteric people who would do nothing but study all day long," one participant e-mailed shortly after returning home. "I'm glad I found myself wrong. This week ruled! We all had so much fun."

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Editor: Alan Chodos
Associate Editor: Jennifer Ouellette