Wednesday, December 06, 2006


The 2007 International Physics Olympiad will be in a country that has been making the news for doing physics research that other countries aren't so happy about. That's right... it's in Iran!!! The IPhO will be in historic Isfahan, Iran's third largest city, home of Persian rugs, Naghsh-i Jahan Square, and the Uranium Conversion Facility.

It would be cool if some of our students make it on to the U.S. Physics Team and get the rare experience (as Americans) of visiting Iran, under double-secret diplomatic protection. But that's looking not so likely, given the geopolitical situation. The American Association of Physics Teachers (sponsors of the U.S. Physics Team) says:

In view of the current international controversies surrounding Iran and the U.S. State Department’s travel warning, we have significant concerns regarding the travel of the U.S. students and coaches to the international event. We are very grateful for the hosts’ generous hospitality and recognize their collegiality, but we may be compelled to forgo competing in Iran for the international event unless the escalating political climate substantially improves.

I'm still encouraging my students to take the Preliminary Exam even though the odds aren't so good that they'll get to compete internationally -- only 5 students from the whole country get onto the U.S. Physics Team, so the odds were against them anyway.

Some positive developments for this year:
  • They're making the Preliminary Exam easier. There are still going to be only 200 semifinalists, so it will be just as difficult to make it to the next round, but the semifinalists will no longer be distinguished as the only 200 people in the country who were able to answer any questions at all.
  • Specifically, it's going to be mechanics only. Thus, people taking the exam in February after a whole semester of AP Physics C Mechanics (who are just starting the Electricity & Magnetism part of the year) don't have to get demoralized when they show up thinking that they pwn angular momentum and then run into a bunch of questions about inductance and blackbody radiation.
  • The teachers don't have to grade the Preliminary Exam anymore! And there is online registration!
The IPhO has not been isolated from international politics. The first one was in Poland, and it started as mostly a Soviet bloc thing ("international" because it involved multiple nations, not because it involved the whole world). The first Western Hemisphere nation to participate was Cuba. But the US has been participating for many years, and hosted it in 1993.

After this Iran mess is resolved, we can look forward to less controversial host nations in the future. Next year's Olympiad will be in... Vietnam!

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