发表于 2012/01/14 01:41

美国孩子是怎样参加国际物理奥林匹克的?

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摘要: 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...

2016无老师暑假托福走读班

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。

物理集训营参与者的选择每年一月开始。全美数以千记名学生参加物理奥林匹克第一轮考试,本轮测试只考力学。三月份,300名左右首轮考试最高分得主被邀请参加半决赛的考试,这轮涵盖了广泛的领域,它的成绩用于确定美国物理国家队的20名成员。

我首先从美国物理教师协会(AAPT)的网站下载了物理竞赛的考古题并开始做这些题目。AAPT是奥林匹克物理训练营赞助机构。即使做了充分的准备,当我从半决赛考试出来时还是发现我在几个地方有错误。几个星期后,我打开一个电子邮件,非常惊奇地发现:我被邀请参加物理集训营。这是一个令人难以置信的时刻!

五月底,我在学校请了几天假去马里兰大学参加物理训练营。抵达后不久,同学和教练聚集在一起讨论今后10天时间表。几乎每天都排满了物理课程,实验室训练,以及大量的测试。

训练营的最后一天将公布今年代表美国参加国际物理奥林匹克竞赛的五名成员的名单,在那时之前,我们的每一次考试的成绩都会影响这一决定。一个教练生动地描述这一过程:“在做完我们的一些考试后,你可能会觉得象是被巴士撞倒一样。但是你的责任是爬起来重组,并且做好准备再考一轮,或者, 也许第二天,再考两轮”。

第二天早上,我被扔进一堂狭义相对论的课程。当我还在尝试弄清相对论中的一些悖论时,下一堂讲座的时间已到。教练们把几个学期的物理课压缩在这一周之内,很多时间我发现实在难以跟上。

下午是实验课,我们学习IPhO实验考试必需的仪器设备和操作技巧。到目前为止,我的物理训练都是理论性的,现在我不得不把这些概念付诸实践,设计和操作真正的物理实验。

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。

当然,我们每天都有很多考试。可以想象这些考试有着巨大的压力,因为我们每个人都希望获得去国际物理奥林匹克的机会。然而,我们却很少相互竞争,主要得宜于教练的不公布成绩的策略而带来的正面气氛。

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。

我的IPhO道路并不是一帆风顺的,2010年我没有被选上去克罗地亚的国际物理奥林匹克。但我决心再试一次,2011年5月,我重回马里兰大学,在这里将决定为2011年去泰国IPhO的人员。

这一次我有了经验,所以不是很紧张。因为有了上一年的笔记,我做了相当多的预习,使得我能够放松一点,有时间体会社交方面的经验。

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。

随着训练营接近尾声,大家都焦急地等待公布国际物理奥林匹克队的名单。这一刻终于来临,教练告诉我们:“因为这次很难决定,他们将从一顶帽子里随机地抽队员的名字”(我们很快就发现了帽子里只有5张纸条)。他们读出第一个名字… 那是我!随着其他的几个名字一一被叫,我们每个人都收到来自我们队友的击掌和拥抱。

即使在第二天早上我准备回家的时候,我依然期待着与IPhO其他成员的最后一次探险。在7月我们将重新聚集在马里兰进行了前往曼谷之前最后的实验室培训。

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。

张晨波的父亲是斯坦福大学物理学教授张首晟,因提出“量子自旋霍尔效应”理论被《科学》杂志评为2007年十大科学进展,并获2010年欧洲物理奖。原来是将门虎子,难怪。

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.

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