Shrewsbury School

The Physics World Cup at Shrewsbury School, 3rd - 10th July 2014

Thursday 4 September 2014

Shrewsbury School was honoured to host the 27th International Young Physicist's Tournament on behalf of the UK at the beginning of July. Known as the Physics World Cup, this is the largest and most prestigious schools' science competition in the world.  Chairman of the UK YPT Organising Committee and Shrewsbury Physics Master John Balcombe reflects on an extremely successful week.

The 27th International Young Physicists’ Tournament took place at Shrewsbury from 3rd - 10th July. Nearly 150 students from 28 countries along with 60 team leaders and another 60 international jury members and guests filled four boarding houses and a fair number of hotel rooms in the town.

After a splendid opening ceremony in the Alington Hall which included a keynote speech by Lord Rees, Astronomer Royal and Old Salopian, the competition started in earnest later the same day. The UK team featured three Salopians, Ilya Lapan, Ian Yeung and Dom Dootson, and two students from John Leggott College, Scunthorpe. In the first round they faced Romania and Poland; the latter proving to be one of the strongest teams in the tournament and eventual finalists. They quickly realised that the competition was going to be extremely intense. The UK team's first task was having to explain how a hologram could be produced by scratching plastic. Ilya Lapan, UK Captain, followed up by reviewing and opposing in the next two stages. After over three hours of hard-fought competition, the UK team were 16th out of 28 countries; not a disaster by any means, but we wanted to do better.

The team had worked extremely hard in preparing for the tournament and realised that just as when preparing their solutions in the lab, the competition was also about team work and having the confidence to defend what one has just presented against sometimes fearsome opposition. The next three days saw four more rounds until by lunchtime on the 7th July, the selective rounds were over. The UK team worked brilliantly together; quickly putting upsets behind them and only thinking forward to the next stage. Steve Adams, Head of Science, and Craig McDonagh (JLC) worked tirelessly with the team; often into the early hours. Their final position was a very respectable 12th out of 28 countries which in IYPT earns them a well-deserved bronze medal. This was one of the best performances by a UK team in recent years.

As hosts of IYPT 2014, the ‘home team’ consisted of far more than the five students and two teachers mentioned above. As UK member of the International Organising Committee of IYPT and Chair of the Local Organising Committee of IYPT 2014, my own contribution started back in 2010 in Austria when a tentative bid was made to host the tournament in the UK. This was ratified by the International Organising Committee (IOC) in Germany in 2012 and there was no going back.

Fundraising was the first consideration, but as the tournament got nearer and nearer, the enormity of the task of providing the infrastructure became clear. Medals were designed and manufactured; bags, T-shirts and other merchandise were sourced. The travel, feeding and accommodation for nearly 300 people was planned with military precision – we did not want to lose nine Singaporeans at Heathrow Terminal 5, not least as they were to become the eventual winners. Missing visas were pursued at the highest level at the Home Office – the phone line to the British Embassy in Moscow was red hot. Ten classrooms were equipped for ‘Physics Fights’ and our IT facilities were rigorously tested. Guest speakers were invited; opening and closing ceremonies were prepared. Excursions were planned on three consecutive days so that our guests could enjoy the beauty of both Shrewsbury and Shropshire.

On the 9th July, the final took place between Singapore, Slovakia, China and Poland. I don’t know what the previous Shrewsbury School headmasters would have made of it looking down from their lofty positions in the Alington Hall, but the audience were certainly impressed and the level of competition was mind-blowing. As previously mentioned, Singapore were the eventual winners and retained the trophy that they won in Taiwan in 2013.

All that remained was to have a fantastic farewell party in Kingsland Hall and then ensure that everybody was taken back to the right airports for flights home the next day. This sadly did not include myself nor the IIOC, as we had two more days of meetings in order to set the ball rolling for the 28th IYPT in Thailand in 2015.

If anybody ever doubted that Shrewsbury School could put on this event – and in fairness it is most usually backed by large universities and massive funding from government and industry – then I think we can be very proud of the fact that we did it. Many thanks to all concerned.
JB

For photos of the 2014 Tournament at Shrewsbury, please see https://www.flickr.com/groups/iypt2014

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