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Top performance by the German team at the 2022 International Physics Olympiad

July 18th, 2022

The 52nd International Physics Olympiad (IPhO) was held as an online competition from July 10th - 17th, 2022. Switzerland was the main organizer responsible for staging the IPhO with nearly 370 talented young scientists from 75 countries. Five delegations came together at the German Electron Synchrotron (DESY) in Hamburg to participate in the IPhO and experienced an exciting competition week. This was not only a very special experience, but also very successful for the German Olympians: With 2 gold, 1 silver and 2 bronze medals, they achieved a remarkable result and a ranking as the second best European nation.

The world's best young physics talents come together once a year at the International Physics Olympiad (IPhO) to demonstrate their skills and compete for Olympic medals. The IPhO involves puzzling over, calculating, measuring and, of course, coming up with the right ideas for the challenging tasks, as well as networking with people from all over the world.

Students of the IPhO 2022 at DESY, Hamburg
Belarus was originally scheduled to host this year's competition. However, in light of the country's involvement in the Ukraine war, Belarus was stripped of its hosting rights and Switzerland stepped in as organizer at short notice. Since it was not realistic to organize a local competition in the short time available, the 52nd IPhO was held online from July 10 to 17, 2022. This was attended by 368 students from a total of 75 countries. The hosts were supported by the IPhO office and an international academic committee that compiled the tasks.

To enable the physics talents direct contact with Olympians from other countries despite the competition online format, the Physics Olympiad in Germany organized an international competition event in cooperation with DESY in Hamburg, in which delegations from Denmark, Estonia, the Czech Republic and Slovenia participated in addition to the German delegation. During the week at DESY, there was a lot of physics to discover besides the competition exams. Furthermore, the participants were able to explore and get to know the city of Hamburg together.

The German team consisted of Théo Lequy (Werner-von-Siemens-Gymnasium, Magdeburg), Finnley Paolella (Gymnasium Kronshagen), Lukas Tyben (Gymnasium Nordhorn), Richard Ueltzen (Albert-Schweitzer-Gymnasium, Erfurt) and Christian Vogel (Max-Planck-Gymnasium, Groß-Umstadt). The five secured a ticket to the competition from among nearly 900 students nationwide at the four-stage Physics Olympiad in Germany and then underwent intensive preparation. Dr. Stefan Petersen, the competition director of the Physics Olympiad in Germany from the Leibniz Institute for Science and Mathematics Education in Kiel (IPN), as well as former IPhO participants Pascal Reeck, Christian Schmidt and Sebastian-Philip Harris, were responsible for the technical supervision of the team.

Finnley Paolella during the experimental exam
Many other people were also involved in the organization of the event at DESY, who supervised the individual teams of students and ensured that the examinations and the technical program points ran smoothly.

The central element of the IPhO is the theoretical and practical physics tasks that the Olympians work on in two five-hour written exams. Due to the short-term organization as an online competition, a simulation experiment on the computer was carried out for the experiment this year for the first time in the history of the IPhO, which worked very well.

The tasks were thematically exciting but also extremely challenging this year. The two simulation experiments dealt with trap experiments on an alien planet and properties of vacuum diodes. The theoretical tasks dealt with the physics of permanent magnets, the scaling behavior of physical laws and - a very recent highlight - various aspects of the James Webb Space Telescope. As usual in the last years, the tasks were so extensive that most of the participants did not have enough time to solve them adequately. Consequently, less than 8% of the Olympians were able to achieve more than half of the maximum score.

The German student team of the IPhO 2022, from left to right: Richard Ueltzen (silver), Christian Vogel (bronze), Lukas Tyben (bronze), Finnley Paolella (gold) and Théo Lequy (gold).
The German team members nevertheless performed remarkably well in the exams and enjoyed a medal each. A bronze medal each went to Lukas Tyben and Christian Vogel. Richard Ueltzen was awarded a silver medal. Particularly noteworthy were the performances of Finnley Paolella and Théo Lequy, who finished close together in 16th and 17th place out of 368, placing them in the top five percent of participants. Both received one of the coveted gold medals for their efforts. In the unofficial country ranking by points, the German team thus achieved an outstanding 10th place among the 75 participating countries and, after Romania, the second-best result of the 38 European countries at IPhO 2022. The most successful Olympians once again came from Asia. While German delegations usually have a hard time competing with these performances, there is every reason to be proud of the achievements of the five students of the German team. Despite Switzerland taking over the organization of IPhO 2022 at very short notice, IPhO 2022 ran smoothly for the most part. Thanks to the support of the IPhO office and the international academic committee headed by Prof. Jaan Kalda, the president of the European Physics Olympiad, the high technical standard of the competition could also be maintained in the tasks. Great appreciation and a heartfelt thank you are due to all involved.

The Physics Olympiad in Germany took on a prominent role in this year's special situation by organizing a competition event at DESY in Hamburg, thus making an important contribution to bringing together young, physics-minded people across national borders for the IPhO. Worldwide, there was only one other event of this kind organized directly by the Swiss. IPhO 2022 @ DESY was also a complete success in the eyes of the participating nations. The Physics Olympiad team in Germany would like to thank the BMBF, DESY in Hamburg and all the other people who actively contributed to the success of the event.


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