Information of International Physics Olympiad
The International Physics Olympiad (IPhO) is the most prestigious international physics competition for individual secondary school students aimed to stimulate young people's interest in physics, to propagate natural and exact sciences amongst school students, and to promote science education throughout the world by means of international contacts. It is one of the International Science Olympiads. History
First ever International Physics Olympiad (IPhO) was held in Warsaw, Poland, in 1967. It was organized by Prof. Czeslaw Scislowski. Before that, it was suggested that the IPhOs should be conceived and held annually like the International Mathematical Olympiads (IMOs). The success of the IMOs, and the positive experience gained from their organisers, greatly stimulated physicists involved in physics education.
Czeslaw Scislowski from Poland, Rostislav Kostial from Czechoslovakia and Rudolf Kunfalvi from Hungary, three professors had done tremendous work and dedicated them to organizing the first ever IPhO in their motherland. Later it was found out that, Poland would be the most suitable country for organizing IPhO. This, together with a great personal contribution from Prof. Scislowski, resulted in the first international physics competition that took place in Warsaw in 1967.
One important difference between the IMOs and the IPhOs is that at the IPhOs, participants solve not only theoretical problems but also experimental problems. Therefore, organising an IPhO is more complicated and more expensive.
Several months before the first IPhO took place, invitations were sent to all Central European countries. The invitations were accepted by Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Romania. Each team consisted of three secondary-school students accompanied by one supervisor. The competition was arranged along the lines of the Polish Physics Olympiad: one day for theoretical problems, and another day for an experiment. One difference was that the participants had to wait for the scripts to be marked. During the waiting period, the organisers arranged two excursions by plane to Krakow and Gdansk. The students had to solve four theoretical problems and one experimental problem.
The second IPhO was organised in Budapest, Hungary, in 1968. Some time before the second IPhO, preliminary versions of the Statutes and Syllabus were produced. Later, the International Board consisting of the supervisors of the teams that participated in the competition officially accepted these documents. This took place during a special meeting organised in Brno, Czechoslovakia, several months after the second IPhO. It is proper to underline that, in spite of various changes made later, all the basic features of the first Statutes remain valid to this day.
Third and the following IPhOs
The third IPhO was arranged in Brno, Czechoslovakia, in 1969. It was organised according to the official Statutes accepted earlier. The next IPhO took place in Moscow, Soviet Union, in 1970. Each country was represented by six students and two supervisors. Several small changes were also introduced into the Statutes.
Since the fifth IPhO, held in Sofia, Bulgaria, in 1971, each team has consisted of five students and two supervisors. The sixth IPhO was held in Bucharest, Romania, in 1972. The first non-European country, Cuba, and the first Western European country, France, participated in the sixth IPhO. The International Board decided to introduce several changes into the Statutes. However, no written proposal of the changes was produced.
Unfortunately, in 1973, there was no IPhO as no country was willing to organise it, although the number of participating countries had been gradually increasing. When it seemed likely that the IPhOs would die, Poland took the initiative of reviving them and organised the seventh IPhO in Warsaw in 1974 for the second time. On this occasion, West Germany was invited to attend the competition for the first time which certainly had a symbolic significance.
Before the competition, the organizing committee introduced into the Statutes, the verbal changes discussed and accepted in Bucharest during the sixth IPhO. The new version of the Statutes was sent to all the countries invited to the competition for acceptance and comments. The wording suggested by the organizing committee was accepted. The most important changes were as follows.
- The number of theoretical problems was reduced from four to three.
- The number of working languages (previously Russian, English, German and French) was reduced to two, English and Russian.
- There should be one rest day between the two examination days.
The criteria for prizes should be expressed in percentages with respect to the highest score received in a given competition (formerly range of mark for prizes had been determined with respect to the highest theoretically possible score).
In 1975, 1976 and 1977 the IPhOs took place for the first time in East Germany, Hungary, for the second time, and Czechoslovakia, for the second time, respectively. In the thirteenth IPhO in Malente, West Germany, for the first time, the participants solved, under agreement of the International Board, two experimental problems instead of one.
In 1983, the IPhO was organised in Bucharest, Romania, for the second time. The number of problems prepared by the organisers for the students much exceeded the number of problems mentioned in the Statutes. The International Board spent a lot of time discussing the Statutes and Syllabus, and the future of the Olympiads.
It was decided that the next competition would take place in Sigtuna, Sweden, in 1984. Unfortunately, there were no volunteers to organise the Olympiads in 1985, 1986 and 1987. In such a situation, upon the suggestion of Dr. Gunter Lind (West Germany), the International Board decided to appoint Dr. Waldemar Gorzkowski as a permanent Secretariat for coordinating the long-term work of the IPhOs and popularising them. It was also decided that the Secretariat together with Prof. Lars Silverberg (Sweden), the organiser of the next competition in Sweden, should prepare a new version of the Statutes.
The revision of the Statutes was accepted at the next IPhO. There are, in fact, only minor differences between the old and new versions. The most essential difference is that the new version legalised the existence of the Secretariat of the International Physics Olympiad, consisting of two persons (president and secretary). Another change instituted was that in the experimental part of the competition, the participants could be set one or two experimental tasks; earlier only one was allowed. One can say that the new version differed from the old one primarily in wording. The new version was much more precise.
The delegation heads, consisting of two persons from each participating country, form the so-called International Board, which is the highest authority of the IPhOs. The International Board does not change significantly from year to year. The majority of members know each other very well. Within the International Board, there is a very pleasant and friendly atmosphere. Thanks to this attitude and good will, many difficult problems can be solved comfortably. This is why the Secretariat was able, for instance, to solve the problem of organisation of the International Physics Olympiads in 1985, 1986 and 1987. In 1986, the United Kingdom organised the XVII IPhO in Harrow, London, within only two years since its entry into the competition.
At present the Advisory Committee consists of 14 persons with great experience in the Olympiad work. Every year, some changes in the Statutes are made. Usually they are minor changes. Nevertheless, sometimes the changes are major. The last such change was made in 1999. The Statutes was split into two parts: proper Statutes, and Regulations. Changes in the part called Statutes require qualified majority when voting, while changes in Regulations require simple majority only. In this way, the most important points of the Olympiad law have been separated from those that are of less importance.
The current secretary of the International Board is Prof. Ming-Juey Lin (National Taiwan Normal University, Chinese Taipei), and the current president is Dr. Hans Jordens (University of Groningen, the Netherlands).
Structure of the Competition
The competition lasts for two days. One day is devoted to theoretical problems which involve three problems on at least four areas of physics taught in secondary schools. Total number of marks allocated to this part is 30. Another day is devoted to experimental problems consisting of one or two problems. Total number of marks allocated to this part is 20. These two days are separated by at least one day of rest. On both occasions the time allotted for solving the problems is five hours. Each team consists of students from general or technical secondary schools (not colleges or universities) or has graduated but is yet to enter university, and must be under the age of 20. Typically each team consists of five students (pupils) and two supervisors.
Distribution of medals
The minimal scores required for Olympic medals and honorable mentions are chosen by the organizers according to the following rules: A gold medal should be awarded to the top 8% of the participants. A silver medal or better should be awarded to the top 25%. A bronze medal or better should be awarded to the top 50%. An honourable mention or better should be awarded to the top 67%. All other participants receive certificates of participation. The participant with the highest score (absolute winner) receives a special prize, in addition to a gold medal.