Silver lining at international physics competition
The University of Winnipeg had a team participate in the 2017 University Physics Competition. The results were recently announced and the UWinnipeg team (Tim Coates, Kelsey Duncan, and Raphael Hoult), has received a silver medal ranking in this very competitive international competition. Less than 20 per cent of the teams receive the silver ranking, and UWinnipeg is the only Canadian university with this ranking.
In this 48-hour research-based competition, colleges and universities from around the world analyze a real-world scenario using the principles of physics, and write a formal paper describing their work.
“Physics teachers always like to think that we teach how to put different pieces of information together to solve a problem, not just specific concepts or techniques,” explains UWinnipeg’s Dr. Andrew Frey (physics). “Such a high finish in the University Physics Competition — with a complex, open-ended, real-world-type problem — shows that our students are ready to solve problems on the world stage.”
Coates, Duncan and Hoult enjoyed the challenge of analyzing ‘a real physics problem.’ Coates says, “I expected it to be similar to doing an extremely difficult assignment question that would take us all weekend. Instead it felt a lot more like real physics to me. It wasn’t just finding an answer to a question, it was also about taking everything into consideration at the same time. We had to have our simulations working correctly so they could find potential solutions. It wasn’t a plug and chug* it was a real problem with numerous answers depending on how you approached it.”
“Competing in the University Physics Competition was a great experience,” said Duncan. “It was an excellent exercise in mental stamina and a wonderful chance to be creative with the knowledge we have learned in class at UWinnipeg. The competition allowed us to apply our existing knowledge to free form problems that can be approached many possible ways. This has provided us with a unique experience and glimpse into the world of physicists who are try to solve real world problems by applying the principles learned at university physics courses.”
Hoult is his last year at UWinnipeg, and has participated in this competition three times during his UWinnipeg education.
“I started doing it because I love challenges, and this seemed to be the toughest physics-related one I could think of. Additionally it’s just really fun to get that rush when you finally realize you’ve solved a problem,” said Hoult, adding that he believes his UWinnipeg physics academic experience prepared him for this competition. “We utilized aspects of several different classes — Classical Mechanics I and II, as well as the Advanced Lab class and the Scientific Computing course. It also equipped us with the problem-solving skills requisite to take a vaguely worded problem and turn it into a research paper.”
Coates also has a similar UWInnipeg experience, “My UWinnipeg physics experience was indispensable…They gave us literally every tool we used in the competition, especially Classical Mechanics and Advanced Lab.”
*plug and chug is math that is rote and extremely repetitive which doesn’t require any thinking as defined by the online slang dictionary.
Naniece Ibrahim, Communications Officer, The University of Winnipeg
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