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41 1/2 UBC Physics Olympics


On Saturday, March 6th, we held 41 1/2 UBC Physics Olympics. This was a completely virtual event and since we have never done it before, we were not sure how it will go. I am so glad to share that the event was a huge success. It was a collaboration of the UBC Department of Physics and Astronomy and UBC Department of  Curriculum and Pedagogy. There was an amazing team of people who made it possible. Just to name a few from the Department of Physics and Astronomy: Theresa Liao, Aaron Boley, Mike Hasinoff, Valery Milner, Andrzej Kotlicki,  Jorg Rottler, Alex May, and Joss Ives, and many-many volunteers graduate and undergraduate students. We had 42 teams who participated and their teams were from a 5 students to almost 20! A number of school had more than one team present, which tells us that the event was a draw to many creative students!

The event became possible thanks to two big advances in the tools we can use to engage with science. The first one is the PhET computer simulations and the second one is a free smartphone app phyphox developed by Sebastian Staacks and his team at the RWTH Aachen University in Germany.

We had the following five events:

  1. Home Lab using phyphox: Determining the acceleration of free fall
  2. Home Lab using phyphox: Determining the speed of sound
  3. Quizzics (figuring out physics questions asked in a multiple-choice format)
  4. Fermi questions
  5. A virtual lab using PhET computer simulations

The final total score for the schools is:

  1. R.E. Mountain Secondary School
  2. Burnaby North Secondary B
  3. Semiahmoo Secondary School
  4. Port Moody Secondary
  5. Fraser Heights Secondary School
  6. Eric Hamber Secondary B
  7. SATE Education
  8. Eric Hamber Secondary A
  9. Richmond Secondary School
  10. Burnaby North Secondary A

Valery and I were in charge of the Home Lab events and we both were blown away by the creativity of the teams and the quality of their submissions. There were proposed 14 different ways to measure the gravitational constant and 6 different ways to measure the speed of sound using phyphox! We hope that the students will continue using phyphox and physics teachers will pick up this amazing tool to use in their classes.

I also would like to mention that we had a special workshop for physics teachers during the day – Algodoo workshop – led by Mr. Louay El Halabi – an award winning physics teacher from Semiahmoo Secondary School. It was very well attended and shows many creative ways of using a physics engine – Algodoo for physics teaching.

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