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Physics Olympics in Germany: final digital round

June 16th, 2020

Physics Olympiad in Germany - a very special finale due to the corona pandemic.

Actually, it should have read: "Germany's best physics talents met at Jacobs University in Bremen from April the 14th to 19th to determine the German national team for the International Physics Olympiad 2020 in theoretical and experimental exams. At least that was the plan before the Corona pandemic thwarted the implementation and made it impossible for the participants to come together. The final round of exams was held in April and June by videoconference to give young candidates the opportunity to demonstrate their skills and complete the national competition, even under these special circumstances. Thus, the most successful students of this year's Physics Olympiad in Germany were awarded prizes in mid-June.

The selection competition for the International Physics Olympiad (IPhO) - the Physics Olympiad in Germany - is organized and carried out by the Leibniz Institute for Science Education and Mathematics (IPN) in cooperation with the Ministries of Education of the Länder and with financial support from the Federal Ministry of Education and Research. Between 800 and 1000 students from all over Germany and also from German schools abroad take part every year. In four rounds of theoretical and experimental physics exercises, the young physics talents show what they are capable of.

The fourth or final round of the competition is the final round of the national competition. The five best of this round make up the national team representing Germany at the IPhO. This year, 16 students from nine federal states have qualified for the final round. This event was planned in cooperation with Jacobs University in Bremen and directly after Easter. However, it had to be cancelled due to restrictions in the wake of the Corona pandemic. This is all the more regrettable as in addition to the actual competition bringing together young people interested in physics is a central objective of the Physics Olympiad. To complete at least the competition part and thus the selection of the national team, however, it was decided to hold the exams in the form of video conferences - a first for both participants and organizers and an exciting challenge.

A total of three three-hour written examinations were held during the final round. One theoretical exam each in April and in the second week of June as well as an experimental exam, which was also held in June. The tasks for the exams were designed by former participants, dedicated teachers, and the IPN's competition management and offered the young physicists a number of challenges. The tasks dealt with rotating water vessels, the radius of curvature of the cornea in the eye, laser spectroscopy, cable friction, interstellar rocket engines and much more.

A special challenge, also on the logistical side, was the experimental retreat, for which all candidates were sent a package with the most important experimental materials in advance. To not make it too easy to guess the exam topic, the participants were asked to provide a number of materials themselves, some of which were not needed in the exam. In terms of content, the experimental tasks were concerned with the investigation of moiré patterns, which arise from the superimposition of two grid patterns. The exam is available for interested parties at under the heading "Aufgaben".

All papers were digitized by the participants directly after the exams and submitted online. They were then double-checked to ensure the fairest and most comparable assessment possible. After the correction of their submissions, the participants were also given the opportunity to discuss their evaluation with the proofreaders to clarify any unclear points and, if necessary, to adjust the evaluation again - this was also a first for the Physics Olympiad in Germany. All in all, the execution of the exams and the correction via videoconference in this mode worked quite smoothly. At the end of this very special finale, the five best up-and-coming physicists in the competition were awarded prizes in a small prize-giving ceremony on 12 June - naturally also via video conference. These are:

1st place: Franz Loose, Martin-Andersen-Nexö-Gymnasium (Dresden)

2nd place: Tobias Messer, Martin-Andersen-Nexö-Gymnasium (Dresden)

3rd place: Maximilian Hauck, Elisabeth-Langgässer-Gymnasium (Alzey)

4th place: Janek Darowski, Carl-Friedrich-Gauß-Gymnasium (Frankfurt (Oder))

5th place: Richard Wohlbold, state high school for highly gifted students (Schwäbisch Gmünd)

The five Olympic athletes were actually scheduled to participate in the 51st International Physics Olympiad (IPhO) in July in Vilnius, Lithuania. Unfortunately, the IPhO was also cancelled for the summer due to the current situation and postponed until next year. As an alternative, the 4th European Physics Olympiad in July 2020 will now be held via video conference. Many European countries, including Germany, will use these as a substitute for participation in the IPhO. This will give the national team an opportunity to compete on an international level. However, the other participants in the final round also deserve great recognition. They have reached a place in the final round among more than 800 participants, and that is a very special achievement.

Thus, this year's Physics Olympiad in Germany could be brought to an appropriate conclusion despite exceptional circumstances and the associated restrictions regarding the staging of events with students. A heartfelt thank you to all participants and partners for their commitment and great flexibility. We hope for calmer waters in the selection competition for the International Physics Olympiad 2021, which has already begun, and the opportunity to carry out the next final round together with the participants again on site.


Dr. Stefan Petersen, IPN, Olshausenstrasse 62, 24098 Kiel
Ph.: +49 (0)431 880-5120

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