Five DTU students represent Danish physics on the world stage

Tuesday 24 May 22

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Suzanne Zamany Andersen
Postdoc
DTU Physics
Elite universities from around the globe will spend a week competing to find the an-swers to some of the biggest unsolved problems in the world of physics.

The young students taking part in the International Physicists' Tournament will be faced with completely open-ended physics-related questions. For instance, one of the tasks is to determine whether it is possible to prove or disprove the hypothesis that the earth is flat using nothing more than the camera or sensors on a smartphone. Another is to investigate and measure how far the sparks from a sparkler fly. 

These are hot topics that are directly relevant to research, yet there are no answers to be found in any textbook. Instead, students must work out themselves which experiments and calculations can help them to find the answer. The 17 different questions in this year’s contest being held in Colombia were announced over six months ago. Since then, competitors have been able to prepare to explain in just 10 minutes their considerations, calculations and experiments in relation to each of the questions. 

“The five of us studying at DTU have met once a week with our supervisor who is also participating as a juror in the competition. At our meetings, we discussed our ideas and challenged each other on whether there were other ways to solve the problems,” says Lise Grüner Hanson. She and Joachim Marco Hermansen are two of the five students on the team. 

Experiments in their suitcases

One of the key things that the team have packed into their suitcases are the necessary components for conducting experiments as part of their presentations. The competition is based on a series of rounds, each including teams from three different countries. One team is tasked with presenting a solution to the physics problem. A second team is designated the opponent and must pose questions and challenge the first team on whether there is anything that could be done differently or better. Finally, a third team must moderate between the first two teams. This sees the students tested in a range of competences that any researcher must master. The round comes to an end when each team is awarded a score by the jury, which comprises supervisors from each of the participating universities. 

Student team members will receive 5 ECTS credits for their participation as the competition requires a commitment of time for the preparatory phase. This is the case regardless of whether the students are BSc or MSc students, and this year’s team includes representatives from both constituencies. 

“The most important thing about taking part is that you get the chance to get to grips with some cool, unsolved problems in the world of physics that it’s really great to work on. Not to mention to big social boost of meeting with others from across the world who share the same interests we do. It really makes for a great network,” says Joachim Marco Hermansen. Both he and Lise Grüner Hansson are participating in the competition for the second time.

During their preparations, the team have made good use of Nanoteket, the laboratory that DTU Physics students have access to. Furthermore, the department’s workshop has pitched in, producing additional equipment that was not already available.

The Danish team hopes to reach the semi finals, but its members also recognise that they are facing very talented opponents from other leading international universities.

Facts

The International Physicists' Tournament first took place in 2009 as a friendly competition held between Ukraine and Russia. This year there have been extensive efforts to secure funding to enable the participation of the Ukrainian team. 

Denmark and DTU have been participating in the competition since 2013 and are incredibly grateful to the Otto Mønsted and Knud Højgård Foundations for supporting the team’s travel and participation in this year’s competition. 

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