Are you ready for the International Physics Olympiad?
The 50th edition of the competition takes place in Tel Aviv this July. Test your IQ with some sample questions.
The 50th International Physics Olympiad, an annual science competition for high school students, will take place in Israel starting on July 7. This year's event is of particular note because it's happening in the same country as Hebrew University, a school that was established by Albert Einstein. It is also the home of the famed Nobel Prize winner's archives.
Around the globe, hundreds of thousand of teens try out for their national teams but only a few hundred actually make it to the competition. Contestants from 78 nations – from countries like Britain and India – are expected at the week-long event.
The 2019 U.S. team has students from California, Texas, Washington and Maryland. Those high schoolers attended a rigorous training camp at the University of Maryland, where they had the opportunity to improve their laboratory and problem solving skills and hear special lectures by prominent physicists.
The reigning champion of the Olympiad is Yang Tianhua, a Chinese student, who took home the top prize at the 2018 event held in Lisbon, Portugal.
Not surprisingly, the questions for the competition are kept top-secret until the actual event. "You'll be seeing some unusual kinds of physics that you would not come across in a standard high school textbook," said Siobhan Tobin, who helps train the Australian team. "This exam will manage to stump many of the students. You'll need a fair bit of persistence as well." Some of the exams can last as long as five hours.
Want to see how you stack up? Thankfully, questions from previous Olympiads are available online. Here's a sampling of the types of questions they ask so you can see how you fare. Basic answers are provided in italics. However, keep in mind that students taking the exam would have to show a much more detailed mathematical response.
Elephants vs. high heels
This elephant in Zimbabwe is not as heavy as you might think. (Photo: Albrecht Fietz / Pixabay)
Here's an interesting thought experiment: Let's say you were lying on the ground and were about to be trampled on. Which would be worse – being stepped on by a 6,000 pound elephant or an average-sized woman wearing heels?
Answer: You'd naturally assume that being stepped on by an elephant would hurt a lot more. But physics might disagree with you. Despite the elephant's robust size, the pressure you would feel is spread out across its large and flat feet. On the other side of the equation is the high heel which presents a single point of intense pressure.
Einstein meets Pokémon
When Albert Einstein submitted his most famous theory a century ago, he had no idea it would impact such things as pizza delivery and Pokémon Go. But since both of those things work using GPS technology, we have Einstein to thank for them. A discussion question during a previous Olympiad asked about the connection between Einstein's theory of special relativity and its application to GPS.
Answer: Einstein's brain was full of ideas. In particular, his work with the theory of relativity has long been credited as giving birth to our modern-day GPS navigational system. Time and space is relative, Einstein said. It's because of that theory that GPS satellites in space know that high above the surface of the Earth, time is flowing faster than down here. Using that knowledge, they can coordinate with other satellites and your cell phone to figure out your exact location.
The expression 'tip of the iceberg' is pretty accurate, as ip to 90 percent of an iceberg is below the water's surface. (Photo: Rolf Johansson / Pixabay)
Suppose you're on the Titanic shortly before its fateful demise. You see an iceberg ahead in the distance. Would you be able to tell what percentage of the iceberg is visible above the water?
Answer: Most naval experts believe that about 7/8ths of an iceberg is below the water line. This figure is approximate because not all icebergs are the same. You'd have to know more details about the specific iceberg you're studying, like its mass and water density. Icebergs may have irregular shapes with varying heights out of the water, but its overall mass is relatively consistent.
Head in the clouds
Albert Einstein once said, 'It is easy to be an idealist when one lives in the clouds.' (Photo: Gianni Crestani / Pixabay)
It's a nice summer day and you're enjoying it on a park bench. You look up at the sky, dotted with what appear to be light and fluffy cotton balls – aka clouds. How do clouds float in the sky, and why don't they fall?
Answer: For starters, clouds aren't actually floating. The water and ice particles in the clouds we see are simply too small to feel the effects of gravity. According to NASA, small drops of water fall more slowly than big drops. The reason is that as drops fall through the air, the air pushes back on them. Because small drops have less mass and more surface area than large drops, they have a harder time pushing the air out of the way.
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