Member of SCNAT

The Swiss Physical Society (SPS) is the national professional association of Physicists coming from teaching, research, development and industry. The diversity of modern research in physics is reflected in ten specific sections.

Image: ESO

The Swiss Physics Olympiad: a competition for gymnasial students leading to International (IPhO) and European (EuPhO) Olympiads

Rafael Winkler, SwissPhO and ETH Zürich

This year, as organizers of the Swiss Physics Olympiad, we introduced an additional round to our competition. This new first round was held in August and September 2017, with the goal of reaching more students by enabling teachers to take the test with their class either as a paper version or online. Additionally, the students could also participate by themselves online. In terms of student numbers, the result was a big success with 647 participants, which was almost eight times as many participants as in the previous years. The level of the students was pretty high. We also hope that by this new way of doing, we can motivate a lot more teachers to regularly take the test with their students.

The best 80 students from Switzerland and Liechtenstein qualified for the second round. In order to prepare these students for this second round there was a preparation camp, where, during one week, they learned a lot of physics and practised solving former Olympiad problems. Besides the training, the preparation camp was also a good occasion for the students to meet other students with the same passion. In the evening, they often played cards or other games.

After the relaxed nature of the preparation camp, the next event on the Physics Olympiad calendar promised a more serious atmosphere. On the 17th of January, the students gathered in Lugano, Lausanne, Bern and Zurich for a second round of examinations. After being greeted by cheerful volunteers, they sat down for an hour of multiple-choice questions. In the afternoon, three written problems awaited the students. After the exhausting two-hour exam, they were rewarded with a pleasant buffet of snacks. Finally, they headed home, impatiently awaiting the e-mail announcing their results.

The students, who qualified for the final round, were invited to an experimental training camp at EPFL in Lausanne. After a theoretical introduction to AC circuits, the students went to the lab where they had to build a low pass filter and examine its properties. Additionally, they also examined an electrical black box containing different linear elements. On the second day of the experimental training the students received an introduction to statistics and were then able to apply their newly learned knowledge to different former Physics Olympiad experiments. The whole training was rounded off on the third day with a lecture about relativity.

On 24th /25th of March, the final round of the Physics Olympiad took place at the Neue Kantonsschule Aarau. The students had a total of 3.5 hours for solving different theoretical problems and 2.5 hours for the experimental one. In this experimental task, they had to investigate different optical and electrical properties of a light bulb. On Sunday morning the ranking and the teams for the two international competitions were announced in the final ceremony. This year Switzerland does not only take part in the International Physics Olympiad, which takes place in Lisbon, July 21-29, but for the first time, we will also participate in the European Physics Olympiad in Moscow, May 28 to June 1. The final ranking of the SwissPhO 2018 is given at, including also the participation to the two international Olympiads to come.

The two best performing students have been rewarded with the "SPG Nachwuchförderpreis" / "Prix de la Relève de la SSP", given with the support of the Academy SCNAT.

[Released: July 2018]