by Ashley Ngu
Similar to sporting events, academic competitions allow students to demonstrate their intellectual skills in a variety of subjects. The International Science Olympiads consist of 12 such competitions, each with focuses on different aspects of science. This year, junior Brian Zhang was selected to be one of the 20 members on the U.S. Physics Team with the possibility to participate in the International Physics Olympiad (IPO) in Croatia. Two Gunn students, Zhang and freshman Jesse Kim, and two Palo Alto High School students, senior Lynnelle Ye and freshman Jeffrey Yan, were also selected to take part in the Mathematical Olympiad Summer Program (MOSP), a training program designed to prepare promising U.S. students for possible participation at the International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO).
Zhang was accepted by the U.S. Physics Team after passing two exams, one formatted as multiple choice and another more difficult one as free response. By passing both these exams, he was accepted both onto the team and a two-week U.S. Physics Team Training Camp at the University of Maryland along with the 19 other students. “Last year there was a student from Paly who made the US Physics Team,” Zhang said. “When I was preparing for the Physics Olympiad, it was motivating to know that if someone from Paly could make it, someone from Gunn could too. I’m really proud to represent Gunn this year.” Five students will be selected from the 20 students attending the camp to represent the United States at the IPO.
Zhang says he has always been interested in math, but only took interest in physics after taking AP Physics C this year. “I think math and science are the most applicable subjects that you learn in school because most of the high-tech jobs today require knowledge in these areas,” he said. “I like physics because it is more tangible than math, which is entirely abstract. Physics can help us understand how our universe works.”
This year, 60 US students were selected to attend MOSP through a series of three tests. The first test, which students take part in every year, was the American Mathematics Competitions (AMC) 10 or 12. Those who performed well participated in the American Invitational Mathematics Exam (AIME) in March. The remaining group of students was then narrowed down further with the United States of America Mathematics Olympiad (USAMO), where Zhang tied with 10 other students for 13th place nationwide. Kim took the other qualifying test, the United States of America Junior Mathematics Olympiad (USJAMO), the USAMO equivalent for sophomores and below, and placed 5th in the nation. Sixty high scoring students from USAMO and USAJMO were then invited to MOSP.
Zhang and Kim will not make it onto the traveling team destined for the IMO this year. Only the top 12 USAMO scorers, mostly seniors and juniors, have a chance to secure a spot on the six-member team participating at IMO. However, they both plan to keep trying until they graduate. According to Zhang, he is unlikely to make the US Physics traveling team. “In any case, it will be a great opportunity to meet a variety of students who are interested in the same fields as me and to take some math and physics classes that I probably wouldn’t have access to otherwise,” Zhang said.
Kim has long excelled at math and says the competition has greatly increased his interest in the subject. “The tests have made me enjoy math more because the problems on the Olympiad are much more challenging and interesting to figure than the problems we do in regular school classes,” he said.