International Physicists Tournament 2018

Half a year of intense preparation and here I was, standing in the arrivals zone of the Domodedovo airport in Moscow to meet my team of physics students from EPFL, who made their way to the International Physicists’ Tournament 2018 and received an honor to represent Switzerland. A couple of hours later the whole team was gathered in one of the rooms of a new dormitory at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, where I had a pleasure of doing my undergraduate studies. Together with six 3rd year students (Alberto Rolandi (captain), Noemie Planat, Mathieu Suter, Laurent Michaud, Marion von Allmen and Virginie Solans), I had two very experienced helpers from last year’s  IPT team – Quentin Dubey and Arthur Parmentier, who taught the team to dive deeper into the physics and to present their solutions in a clear and appealing way. My role as the team leader was quite easy – just bring the team to Moscow and let them win the tournament.

As it usually happens, not all the problems were ready to be presented at the start of the IPT, so the team was using every bit of their free time to polish their solutions. During the first two days of preliminary physics fights they were challenged by other teams to present 4 out of 17 problems from the official list. Luckily enough, those problems were done quite well and received high grades from the jury. Combined with very strong opposition and review skills, that the team members mastered during the physics fights, the Swiss team made it into the semi-final with the five other teams, who obtained highest scores.

In the semi-final, Swiss team played against teams from Ukraine (winner of four previous editions of IPT) and Sweden (2nd place at IPT 2017). In a very tough fight they managed to snatch the victory from Ukraine and secured their place in the Grand Finale, where they had to battle the teams from France and Brazil. But before that all teams had a free day, devoted to sightseeing and excursions to Moscow’s top attractions. This was a break the Swiss team for sure deserved (together with a couple extra hours of sleep after several sleepless nights)! Also while walking on the Red Square and visiting the museum of Cosmonautics, the IPT participants spent some time all together and shared their experience of the previous days.

But the tournament wasn’t yet over. No matter how hard it was to get into the Grand Finale, playing well against the top teams was even harder. The IPT final started from the Captains’ Fight, which is supposed to define in which order and against whom the teams will be playing. And it was the longest Captains’ Fight the tournament has seen with several theoretical and experimental tasks to distinguish a clear winner! The most attractive of them was probably the task to make a precise timer out of a balloon and a bottle with liquid nitrogen. And, backed by the ancient traditions of Swiss watchmakers, the Swiss team was the only to one to demonstrate the working timer! With a bang! For those of you, who are curious to see it here.

The Swiss team did very nicely its opposition and review, but the best moment of the Grand Finale was ultimately their presentation of the problem Static Speaker (a speaker with no movable parts). There the Swiss team used an old electric arc projector to make it play music and analyzed its performance, compared to the other types of speakers. Moreover, they actually brought the whole setup from EPFL to Moscow, assembled it onstage and made it play during their presentation! No one could resist such a performance and the jury gave very high marks for it.

After a couple more hours of waiting (and, of course, having a well-deserved lunch), the award ceremony took place. Being ready to go on stage as bronze or silver medalists, the Swiss team couldn’t hold the screams of joy when they realized they actually won the tournament! For the first time in five years! It was a great reward for the months of hard work, intense discussions and, probably, the most stressful Easter break they have ever had! They were the IPT champions and I couldn’t have been more proud of my team!

If you got excited as you were reading this – it’s just the right moment to get involved! Send an e-mail to switzerland@iptnet.info or directly to evgenii.glushkov@epfl.ch and express your interest! By the way, the list of problems for IPT 2019 is already published, so why don’t you come to EPFL next December to try to beat the winners of the IPT 2018? And, who knows, maybe in a year you’ll be holding the trophy of the IPT 2019?

P.S. The Swiss team would like to thank the EPFL Vice Presidency for Education for sponsoring the team’s plane tickets, Swiss Physical Society for covering the registration fee and promoting the IPT in Switzerland, and EPFL Physics Section for fully supporting the team throughout months of preparation for the tournament!

Evgenii Glushkov