The city’s most intellectual jocks returned home with silver medals from a competition that pitted them against some of the brightest young minds in B.C.
Teams from 60 high schools met earlier this month Vancouver at the University of B.C. for the school’s 35th annual Physics Olympics. The crew from Penticton Secondary School was the first runner-up behind Claremont Secondary of Victoria. “
Every single one of those teams is (composed of) the top kids in that school, so it’s a huge challenge,” said Bruce Gowe, the physics teacher who coached the six-person entry from Penticton.
The teams competed in six different events, two of which required them to build machines in advance. The pre-builts were a hackey-sack launcher, judged on accuracy, and another machine meant to keep a weight swinging from a string for as long as possible.
The kids also competed in two laboratory-based challenges that required knowledge of electrical circuits and the properties of light, and two other quiz-type events that tested their general knowledge of physics. The theoretical questions ranged from guessing the number of mints in jar to estimating the size of a black hole based on its solar mass.
Penticton’s Avery Pryce, 17, said he and his mates devoted nearly every free moment for a month to prepare for the event by working on their machines, memorizing mathematical constants and brushing up on physics concepts.
Despite the team’s success, however, his friends didn’t exactly greet the group’s return with a heroes’ welcome.
“They just think it’s, like, pretty cool,” Pryce said. “And that’s about it. For us, it’s a big, big deal.”
Pryce, who plans to study engineering or computer science next year at the University of Victoria, said the Physics Olympics is devoid of gamesmanship and intimidation seen in some sport-based competitions.
“It’s kind of intense, but super-friendly,” he said.
Teammate Clara Schirrmeister, 18, said the event allowed her to put her knowledge of physics into practice, and also gave her increased confidence in her plan to study engineering next year at Simon Fraser University.
“I’m definitely prepared to work for the rest of my life in physics,” she said. “Before I was like: Who knows if I’ll like it or not? But now it’s like: This is something I could do.”
Gowe said Penticton Secondary sends a team to the event almost every year and top finishes aren’t uncommon for his crews. The secret, he explained, is a willingness to spend time preparing beforehand.
“They were just a fantastic group of kids,” Gowe said. “I’m really proud of what they’ve accomplished and just the amount of time they dumped into it. It was a great way to represent Pen High.”
Other team members were Deborah Clarke, Kerrick Lannon-Paakspuu, Courtney Milligan and Natthaphon Somsa-ard.