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The International Physicists' Tournament (IPT)

Published Feb 21, 2022

Interview with Professor Marcin Swillo

Tell us a bit about the physics tournaments KTH students take part in.

Marcin Swillo

The International Physicists' Tournament (IPT) is a competition between student teams. Only the preselected problems are used in the competition. The list of problems can be seen on the IPT website a few months in advance. There are six students in each team. During the competition, students report a solution to a given problem, challenging the other team as the opponent and acting as the reviewer of the opponent's and reporter's presentations. An international jury evaluates the performance of each team. Official rules can be found on the IPT website. In the tournament, only one team per country can participate. If more than one team is willing to participate, a national competition should select one team. In December 2021, the national selection was organized at KTH with financial support from the SCI school. We only had two teams this time: one from Chalmers University of Technology and one from KTH. The winner was the KTH team! Now, the KTH team can participate in the IPT by sending a report with the solution to one of the selected problems. The report will be assessed by a jury which will decide which team will be accepted for the IPT as the number of places available is limited. IPT 2022 will be held in Colombia.

How is it to supervise a team about to participate in a tournament?

It is the fourth time I have supervised students who wish to participate in IPT. In all cases, team building was purely a student initiative. I don't choose students and do not decide on their participation. I'm just helping them to prepare for the competition. IPT problems are usually very complex and require both: theoretical and experimental research. If needed, I help students to collect all the instruments and necessary components for the experiment and give them some comments about their report. In the experimental part, the team is supported by the laboratory for undergraduate studies. Access to the lab is essential for solving IPT problems. I must say, the students are very motivated. They are very keen on working on IPT problems, and therefore this supervision gives a lot of satisfaction. If the team is accepted for the IPT, the supervisor's role is to serve as a jury member of the other teams' competition. It provides an opportunity to see how other teams are working and therefore also helps supervise KTH students.

Questions to Luca's group:

From left: Luca, Edoardo, Yulia, Elliot

Tell us a bit about your academic background?

Luca: We are all students both with bachelor and master's degrees. Most of us are studying or studied Engineering physics, but we also have members studying Aerospace engineering and one in Civil engineering. Maths and physics knowledge are required for the problem solutions. Still, there is no need to be experts in those fields, and other soft skills such as teamwork, problem-solving, curiosity and organization are also essential.

Introduce your group, and tell us how you got together to form a group for physics tournaments?

Luca: Our group has changed a bit since the beginning of this tournament, but all people that helped with the problem solutions and/or will compete in the international phase are (underlined the ones on the team for the international phase)

Luca Terenzi (team captain), Daniele Lopriore, Maxime Simon, Eliott Bourget, Julia Mathe, Xin Chen, Pontus Pandurević, Kevin Kastberg, Francesco, Di Marcantonio, Hafssa Laabadi, Shek Lun, Leung, Tove Nordmark, Edoardo Foschi, Karl Svahn, Arian Moradi Asl, Nadil Lemmini, Hemming Ma.

In the beginning, since I had already competed for the same tournament in my home university in Italy, I was looking for the KTH IPT team for this year competition. When I contacted Marcin, he told me that no team was created for this year, so I decided to create one. I spread the word among my friends and students presenting the IPT. In the end, with the help of Viktor Pontéus, a student who participated in the KTH IPT team in one of previous competitions, I managed to find enough people to make one.

What is the motivation behind participation in physics tournaments?

Luca: I think everyone can have their motivation to participate in the IPT. In my opinion, it's a fun way to practice what you've learned in your studies and experiment with physics and math. Some problems are more like the theory you may have seen in one of your courses. Still, maybe the next one is about a weird physics phenomenon that has not been completely studied yet. It's therefore exciting to apply the scientific method to investigate the variables and try to explain what we observe.

Eliott: When joining this physics tournament, I wanted to face an open and unsolved problem. This tournament is an opportunity for me to discover what academic research is really like. I enjoy looking for existing research work and then implementing our solution.

Being able to discuss physics and do experiments with students from different countries here in KTH is also one of the main reasons I joined this project!

You will be taking part in the International Physics Tournament (IPT) this year; what do you expect of it?

Maxime: I think we mainly expect to have fun and have great discussions about physics. The event is unique! Gathering students from all over the world to debate about physics is an excellent opportunity to test ourselves, meet new people, and experience an international scientific event! We all look forward to representing Sweden during this amazing competition!

Luca: We will compete with students from universities worldwide in a very challenging and competitive environment. There will be a lot of well-prepared teams, and we'll try to do our best. For sure, the goal of this competition for us will be to practice exposing scientific solutions to physics problems, learning while having fun and getting the chance to participate in this fantastic event and talking with students and professors from all around the world.

Is the preparation or participation process stressful or more exciting?

Xin: (Personal experience as a first-year physics student) In the first week, I only felt excitement because I met so many brilliant students from KTH who are united by a passion for physics. Furthermore, you get to solve a difficult and open problem different from a textbook or exam problem where there's a single right answer. However, as the initial burst of excitement was fading, the stress started to arise during the preparation phase when you researched the problem or lack thereof because it was a niched topic. Thus, my group and I brainstormed possible ideas and approaches to solve the problem by ourselves. After which, we conducted some elementary but fun experiments and then researched more in-depth and refined the experimental setup.

When finally, the day you've been waiting for the past three months arrives, the physics competition with Chalmers. The event was both exciting and stressful. On the one hand, you saw how other people tackled and solved your problem. On the other hand, standing in front of juries, your teammates, along with opponents from Chalmers and debating about the pros and cons of a particular solution, was a rollercoaster of emotions.

In the end, I'd say the excitement of participation in IPT triumphs any stress that comes with it, as for any project or competition in which you work hard to achieve a bigger final goal.

Will your group participate in IPTs in the future?

Daniele: I hope I will not since I will graduate this year! Jokes apart, we are a strong group, coming from various backgrounds. Motivation and preparation have guided us to winning the national selections, which is already a success. Whatever the result, the younger members can use this years' experience to be leaders of future IPT teams.

Luca: I hope so! Besides being fun, the competition is also a perfect opportunity to practice and experiment. Personally, I'm not sure I will be able to be present next year for the problem-solving part, but I would like to help where I can, maybe helping organize the next year team's steps through the competition.

Is there an official team preparation that KTH provides for such activities?

That I know of there are no official team preparations that KTH provides for the IPT

KTH and Chalmers team at the national selections. From left to right (standing students): Francesco, Xin, Pontus, Maxime, Daniele.

Text: Elina Charatsidou