Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Physics Students Gird for a Global Battle

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Physics Students Gird for a Global Battle

Article excerpt

Five of America's top young physics minds are scheduled to touch down in Iran in four days, and they're training up to the bitter end. The last three days have been spent holed up in the physics labs at the University of Maryland. They would emerge from five- hour study sessions only to eat and sleep.

The preparation was rigorous, but necessary. The Americans, with their counterparts from more than 70 other nations, will be going head-to-head with the Iranians on their own turf. But the last thing on the Americans' minds is politics. "We're going to do physics, hang out with several hundred other physics students, and then leave," says Jason LaRue, an incoming Harvard freshman from Miami, Fla.

Mr. LaRue is on the United States physics travel team which will compete against more than 300 secondary school students from around the world in the International Physics Olympiad. The weeklong event begins Friday, testing the students' physics prowess through written exams and hands-on experiments.

Isfahan, Iran, about 270 miles south of the capital, Tehran, is the site of this year's Olympiad. While tensions may be high between the US and Iran, the students and adults involved point out that science is not only universal, but also apolitical. Team member Jenny Kwan of San MarA-cos, Calif., will enter Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., this fall. She'll have to wear a head scarf in Iran. "It might be inconvenient," she says, "but for the traveling experience, I think it's worth it."

Ms. Kwan and Mr. LaRue are teaming with Kenan Diab of Westlake, Ohio, (he will attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge this fall), Rui Hu of Newark, Del. (a high school senior), and Haofei Wei of Broken Arrow, Okla. (He will also attend MIT as a freshman.)

The team's journey to the Olympiad began last winter, when they were among more than 200 top-tier physics students (based on the results of a stiff exam) applying for one of the 24 slots on the US physics team. The team is chosen based on another exam, school transcripts, and letters of recommendation. In late May, the 24- member team met for the nine-day US Physics Team Training Camp. At its conclusion, the five-member travel team was selected.

Over the next month, the team worked at home on written exams from previous Olympiads. They came toA-gether early this week to practice physics experiments before the competition. …

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