Hard work pays off for physics team

Shouvik Bhattacharya

Shouvik Bhattacharya

When Meredith McLinn, physics junior, Pragalv Karki, recent physics graduate, and Shouvik Bhattacharya, physics senior signed up for the University Physics Competition, they hoped they would be ranked highly among competing physics teams from all over the world. Receiving a bronze medal for their formal research paper on volcanism on super-earths, made their dreams come true.

“Receiving a bronze means that the hard work we put in as a team paid off,” Bhattacharya said.

One gold, four silver, and seven bronze medals were awarded. The three physics students competed against 24 other teams from around the world. Only one other team from the United States received a medal.

The three team members were given the choice between two questions. They had 48 hours to produce an answer in the form of a publication-ready research paper. They were not allowed to use any living sources to answer the question. The team used many different methods to come up with the solution, including computer models of hypothetical situations.

“They were literally going at it off-the-cuff and using the knowledge they gained. I was really proud of them. They were handed a completely open-ended problem,” said Juan Cabanela, associate physics and astronomy professor and society of physics students adviser.

“Shouvik told me about the competition since he had participated the previous year,” Karki said. “We were teammates in the Mathematical Contest of Modelling, so we decided to give a shot to the Physics University Competition as well.”

All three students volunteered to compete. Both McLinn and Bhattacharga participated in the competition last year. They chose this competition because they wanted to compete against students from around the world and test their physics knowledge.

“These kinds of competitions increase our knowledge, credentials, competence and ability to solve problems. These qualities are useful for future jobs and more generally, in our everyday lives,” Bhattacharya said.

The two questions were posted on the competition website. The questions are meant to pose real world problems and allow students to think the way scientists do in real life.

“These are bright students. They are gung-ho and excited. They should be proud of what they accomplished,” Cabanela said.

The Society of Physics Students are planning a physics show in February. They are busy getting ready to host the Regional Physics Club meeting. Club members from Minnesota, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota and Nebraska will be invited to the two-day gathering in March.


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