Local high school students Jarod Dagney, Ben Mellema, Eric Beery, Anthony Mazur, and Katherine Baker can make coins dance without touching them, levitate Styrofoam balls, and even weigh time.
No, they aren’t magicians; they’re physics students with impressive problem-solving skills and in-depth knowledge of matter and motion!
These students’ ability to tackle challenging physics phenomena is taking them and their coach, Dr. William McWatters, to Beijing, China, where they will represent the United States in the 31st annual International Young Physicists’ Tournament (IYPT).
Initially, the students were competitors at the local selection competition hosted by the Chester County Intermediate Unit, where they proved that they were the students best qualified to represent Chester County in the regional competition held on April 14 at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia. The five Chester County students and two alternates, having outperformed the team from Princeton Regional Institute of Science and Math, were selected to represent the U.S. at the 2018 IYPT from July 19-26.
Octorara Junior-Senior High School students Jarod Dagney and Ben Mellema are joined on the U.S. team by Eric Beery and Anthony Mazur of Phoenixville High School and Coatesville High School’s Katherine Baker.
Competing in IYPT offers students an exciting opportunity to meet and learn from other passionate young physicists from all over the world and simultaneously provides them with invaluable practical experience, which they can build on in college and in their future career.
“You not only have to run your own experiments, but you have to also back up and prove without a doubt that what you’re saying is correct,” said Mazur. “In a lot of ways, the competition realistically prepares you for the future.”
Preparation for participation in IYPT begins as early as the start of the school year for most students and involves months of meetings, research, and lab work. The students work with their physics teachers, industry professionals, and sometimes younger students who assist in the experimentation process. The collaborative nature of this competition pushes students to think differently and develop a variety of crucial skills, such as determination, teamwork, and open-minded curiosity.
McWatters, David Fenimore, and Gerard Jennings – physics teachers from Octorara, Coatesville, and Phoenixville, respectively – inspired the students competing in IYPT 2018 to develop experiments and presentations on the problems featured in this year’s competition.
The main goal for McWatters is to provide students with exciting opportunities, like this one, where they can challenge themselves and see their work as substantially contributing to the study of physics in the U.S. He hopes to see U.S. participation in IYPT grow in the coming years.
“If teachers learn about this program and get interested then everything else will come,” he said. “Right now, I think in the U.S. there’s probably only 50 physics teachers that know that this actually exists. If we could build that number to 5,000, then that’s how it grows. We just need people to know how cool this is.”
Originally a Soviet-based, Russian-language competition, IYPT has grown since its establishment in 1988 and now attracts aspiring, young physicists from secondary schools all over the world to compete in a week-long tournament where they will present unique solutions to challenging physics problems.
The tournament will host 32 teams for the competition this year, including teams from Turkey, Poland, Canada, Chile, China, and Belarus.