白露为霜注：这是今年国际物理奥林匹克竞赛金牌得主Brian Zhang (张晨波) 写的一篇ESSAY。对IPhO选拔过程有很详细的描述。把它翻成中文，对其他有志于物理奥林匹克竞赛的华裔孩子和他们的家长或许是个借鉴。
尽管已经参加过许多数学竞赛，当我得知国际物理奥林匹克竞赛（IPhO）时还是很兴奋。每年夏天，来自80多个国家的中学生参加国际物理奥林匹克竞赛 -- 一个涵盖理论和实验物理所有领域的考试。但是，如果我想参加IPhO竞赛，我首先必须赢得美国物理国家队集训营20个位子中的一个，其中五名成员将被选中代表美国参加国际物理奥林匹克。
在一项我最喜欢的活动中，我们每个人都发给一个内藏“神秘”电路的密封盒子。我们必需在不打开盒子的情况下预测电路的格局。在办公桌上的一端，我把“黑盒子”连接到不同的测量仪器并读出数据；在办公桌的另一端，我在纸上飞快地计算，并用计算的结果来决定我的下一个步骤。我觉得自己像一个侦探：从不同角度“攻击”这道难题，猜测电路配置，然后测试这个假设是否正确。我未能在规定时间内完成全部任务，但我很喜欢这种“摸着石头过河”( trial-and-error) 的发现过程。实验室的动手的工作也很有吸引力，同课堂教学很不一样。
很多次我在交上测试考卷时都有从来没有考的这么差的感觉。困难的部分并不是知不知道有关的公式，这些公式大概有几页的纸之长，困难经常来自于理解复杂的物理情况，并转化为可解的方程式。其实，最难的考试的问题之一 -- 教练们异想天开地取名为“野蛮人柯南” - 来自力学，高中物理课所涉及的第一个领域。
我在物理训练营的同伴对科学的兴趣的程度是独一无二的。同他们交流思想，向他们学习是一件激动人心的事情。今年物理营的一个朋友有令人难以置信的数学，计算机以及物理学方面的知识，我们一起讨论量子计算机 (quantum computers)，P = NP 问题和戴森球 (Dyson spheres) 的影响，真是一段美好的时间。
除了我们日常的课程之外，AAPT还为我们安排了其他几个活动。著名物理学家进行客座讲座，包括Mario Livio，他的科普读物我在孩提时代就一直拜读，以及诺贝尔奖获得者John Mather。训练营的中途，我们还前往华盛顿的国会山，在那里我们会见了国会议员，还在国家科学院(National Academy of Science)爱因斯坦雕像旁留影。
在国际物理奥林匹克比赛，我尤其期待着同来自其他国家的参赛者会面。我们的主教练，Paul，已经告诉我们带些STD - 当然STD代表小饰品和装饰物 (Small Trinkets and Doodads) - 与我们所交的新朋友分享。在此之前，我们都要在家里自己复习，做IPhO的考古题，并希望为美国队带回一面金牌。
大结局：在今年的国际物理奥林匹克比赛，Brian Zhang 和 Ante Qu 获的两枚金牌，其余三名队员包括唯一的女生Lucy Chen 都赢的银牌。美国队总分排第5名。Brian Zhang 2011年从加州Palo Alto 的 Gunn High School毕业。现在是哈佛大学的新鲜人，他打算主修物理。Ante Qu 后来去了普林斯顿，Lucy Chen 也去了哈佛。
美国队五名队员和教练 (Brian Zhang是中间的那个)
Making the team – Drive, Endurance, and a Passion for Physics
by Brian Zhang
Having already participated in many math contests, I was excited to find out about a competition in physics: the International Physics Olympiad (IPhO). Held every summer, the IPhO brings together students from over 80 countries to compete on an exam covering all areas of theoretical and experimental physics. But if I wanted to compete at the IPhO, I’d first have to earn of 20 spots at the U.S. Physics Team Training Camp. There, five members would be selected to represent the U.S. at the IPhO.
The selection of Training camp participants begins in January, when thousands of students nationwide take the first round of the U.S. Physics Olympiad, which tests only mechanics. In March, the top 300 or so scores on that exam are invited to take the semifinal exam, which covers a wide range of topics and determines the 20 members of the Physics Team.
I downloaded and began working through previous Physics Olympiad problems from the website of American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT), which sponsors the training camp. Even with ample preparation, I emerged from the semifinal round realizing I had made mistakes on several parts. So it was an unbelievable moment when I opened an e-mail a few weeks later and read that I was invited to the camp!
At the end of May, I took a couple of days off school and headed to the University of Maryland for the training Camp. Soon after arriving, I gathered with my fellow students and coaches to discuss the schedule for the 10 days ahead. Almost every day would be packed with classes, lab training, and a lot of tests.
The five members who would represent the U.S. at IPhO would be announced on the last day of the camp, and until then, every exam we took counted toward that decision. One of our coaches vividly described the experience to us “After some of our exams, you might feel that you’ve just been hit by a bus. It is your job to regroup and be ready to take another one – or maybe even two – the next day”
The next morning, I was thrown into a class on special relativity. I was still trying to wrap my head around some of the paradoxes when it came time for the next lecture. The coaches were covering semesters of physics in this weeklong program, and many time I found it hard to keep up.
In our afternoon lab sessions, we learned about the equipment and techniques necessary for the practical exam at the IPhO. Most of my physics training up until then had been theoretical; now I had to put these ideas into practice, designing and conducting actual physics experiments.
In my favorite activity, we were each given a sealed box with an electric circuit inside. Without breaking open the box, we had to predict the pattern of the circuit. On one side of my desk, I connected the “black box” to different measuring devices and took data; on the other end, I worked through calculation on the paper, using the results to devise my next steps. I felt like a detective as I attacked the problem, guessing a configuration and then testing whether it was correct. I ran out of time before completing the whole task, but I enjoyed the trial-and-error process of discovery, and working with my hands in the lab was engaging and nice break from the classroom.
Then, of course, were the exams we took every day. There was a lot of pressure surrounding the tests, as each of us was hoping to earn a trip to the IPhO. Yet we rarely competed with each other, an atmosphere the coaches helped to promote by not releasing any scores.
I turned in many tests feeling that I had never done so poorly on an exam before. The hard part wasn’t knowing the relevant formula, which could probably fit on a few sheets of paper. The difficulty often came in understanding the complex physical situation that was presented and translating it into equations that could be solved. In fact, one of the hardest exam problems – which the coaches whimsically titled “Conan the Barbarian” – came from mechanics, generally the first topic covered in high school physics.
I didn’t make the traveling team that year for the 2010 IPhO in Croatia. But I was determined to try again, and in May 2011, I was back at the University of Maryland, were the traveling team for the 2011 IPhO in Thailand would be decided.
This time around, I knew what to expect and thus felt less nervous about the process. With my notes from the previous year, I had done a good amount of studying in advance, so I was able to relax a bit and soak in the social experience.
My peer at Physics Camp were unique in their level of scientific interest, and it was inspiring to share ideas and learn from them. One friend from this year’s program was incredibly knowledgeable about math and computer science as well as physics, and we had a great time discussing quantum computers, implications of the P=NP problem and Dyson spheres.
Besides our daily academic routine, the AAPT planned several other activities for us. Famous physicists visited as guest lectures, including Mario Livio, whose popular science books I adored as a child, and the Nobel Prize winner John Mather. Midway through the camp, we took a trip to Capitol Hill, where we met with congressional representatives and took pictures with Albert Einstein statue at the National Academy of Science.
As the program drew to a close, we all anxiously awaited the announcement of the IPhO team. When the moment arrived, the coaches told us it was too hard to decide and they would draw our names out of a hat (which we soon learned contained only 5 slips of paper). They read out the first name … and it was mine! As the other names were called, we each received a shower of high-five and hugs from our teammates.
Even as we left for home the next morning, I was looking forward to one last adventure with the other members of the traveling team. In July the five of us will reconvene in Maryland for a period of final lab training before heading off to Bangkok.
At the IPhO, I am especially looking forward to meeting participants from other countries. Our head coach, Paul, had already advised us to bring so STDs – which of course stands for Small Trinkets and Doodads – to share with the friends we make. Until then, we’re each studying on our own, working through past IPhO problem, and hoping to bring home gold medals for team USA.