Monday, July 23, 2007

On the way home

At the airport, waiting to return to the US. First class departure lounges and personal attention are nice, eh? We were shocked to discover that we had to carry our own bags through JFK.
The medal winners of the USA team. From left to right: Kenan (silver), Haofei (gold), Jenny (silver), Jason (gold), and Rui (silver).

In terms of medal counts, China came in first.

China: four gold, one silver
Russia: Three gold, one silver, one honorable mention
USA: Two gold, three silver
Korea: Two gold, three silver
Iran: Two gold, two silver, one bronze
Japan: Two gold, two silver, one bronze

Other countries gaining two gold, in order of medal totals, were India, Vietnam, the Czech Republic, Singapore, Ukraine, and Canada. Nine countries received one gold medal.

In terms of aggregate team scores, China was first.

China: 226.7
Korea: 217.2
Russia: 216.1
Japan: 206.9
USA: 204.2
India: 203.1
Iran: 202.4
France: 202.4
Indonesia: 200.9

These results are, of course, unofficial. but they might be right.....

After a long bus ride from Isfahan to Tehran we were once again carefully escorted by our hosts through the check in process. We were allowed to wait in one of the first class departure lounges, and served tea, coffee, and munchies while we waited to board. Then we were allowed to go to the boarding area through a back door, so that we didn't need to wait in line.

The flight was uneventful, except that it was crowded. Only Paul had an empty seat beside him; the others complained of being squeezed into chairs, or being told to have their faces washed by their seatmates, or being converted by missionaries. They ought share these stories.

Except for the aborted landing because of a "conflict of airspace", all went smoothly as we arrived at JFK. Bob took Haofei and Kenan to LaGuardia; Paul took Jenny and Jason to get checked in at American; and Rui met his father. It will still be many hours before everyone is home, but we are healthy, happy, although likely fragrant.

From the waiting area of jetBlue at JFK,

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Congratulations to the US Team and all Winners

The news is now official.

On behalf of AAPT and the entire physics community, I congratulate the US Physics Team for winning 2 gold medals (Jason Larue and Haofei Wei) and 3 silver medals (Kenan Diab, Rui Hu and Jenny Kwan) at this International Physics Olympiad in Iran. We are proud of their achievements. Every member of our US team returns home decorated. Please help me congratulate them and express our pride in their accomplishments. All winners and participants deserve our applause.

This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for all, and especially our Team. I am so glad we were able to participate.

The competition is the main event, but the experience goes far beyond physics: It plays an important role in buildng human understanding among students from all over the world early on. Perceptions shaped by media and politicians are often inconsistent with reality. Nothing replaces personal interaction. By being in the beautiful, green and history-rich city of Esfahan and by interacting with its friendly and hospitable people, we have all affirmed our belief that the commonality of people and universality of physics trump differences in language, dress code, practices and political rhetoric.

All participants are on their way now to Tehran. Ours are expected back in the States tomorrow afternoon. Students and coaches will then board different planes seeking the warm welcome of their family; but they are now members of a new family. Welcome to AAPT and the physics community.

A huge thank you to Maria Elena and Annette (AAPT staff), Bob Shurtz and Paul Stanley (director and lead coach), our colleagues at the American Institute of Physics for their media and government relations support, and to the parents and teachers for their commitment and support.

(This blog will remain active, as I am sure there will be other commentary and shared experiences about the events and Esfahan.)


Toufic Hakim, Executive Officer
American Association of Physics Teachers

Medals for the USA

The results are in; 2 gold (Haofei and Jason), 3 silver (Jenny, Rui, and Kenan).

The USA was tied for third in the medal count:

China- four gold, one silver
Russia- three gold, one silver, one honorable mention
USA- two gold, three silver
Korea- two gold, three silver
Iran- two gold, two silver, one bronze
Japan- two gold, two silver, one bronze.

India, Vietnam, Czech Republic, Singapore, Ukraine, and Canada also received two golds and other medals.

The USA ranked fifth in terms of the point count, although the IPhO doesn't officially pay attention to country rankings.

We finished the day with celebrations and a dinner in a public garden under the stars.

Now the leaders are trying to pack all of our recent acquisitions- including some Persian Carpets- in time for our bus departure to Tehran.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Isn't the internet fun?

Tonight is ASTRO NIGHT.

Which means, naturally, that it is cloudy, and the dozen or so telescopes that UIT set up for us are useless.

Today is the fourth day it has rained, rather interesting considering the IPhO's website's statement that there is virtually no chance of rain.

results, &c.

bob emailed us some unofficial results today. unfortunately, i don't think we can post those results. results are boring anyway. i'm going to talk about buses and the things that occur on buses. team usa has been a member of the prestigious bus 12 crew throughout ipho, sharing this honor with vietnam, turkmenistan, ukraine, and canadia (not a typo). tensions were running high today due to excessive nectar consumption and random events at the bottom of the pacific ocean. as a result of these unhappy conditions, team usa preemptively provoked a savage pillow fight. our initial volley of no fewer than six or seven pillows was launched at all other teams in the vicinity. turkmenistan, vietnam, and ukraine fought bravely, albeit in vain, to repel our unceasing assault. canadia acquiesced supinely in the rear of the bus, cowering in fear and shame for their (fictitious) (so-called) country. after the dust (i.e., pillows) settled, a peace accord was struck, whereby all nations agreed that canadia sucked. this accord indeed included canadia itself, as represented by its team member dave, who can't pronounce his real name, as the indian team informed him. the united states' team continued their reign of awesomeness by planting a tree symbolizing our commmitment to peace and friendship in the camp we visited the previous day (thus demonstrating the non-linear nature of time). dave was there, having already defected to the u.s. team, playing an important role in complying with our frivolous demands, further demonstrating the fundamentally lame character of dave (and canadia and their people).

dave then informed us during the writing of this post that his leaders would kill him if they read this. yet, he did not deny the veracity of any of these statements. if you are a canadian leader, please do not read this post. dave is getting us milkshakes, and we would hate for him to be slayed for treason while gophering for the american team.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Thursday and Friday: From preliminary scores to final scores

The theory exam was held on Sunday, and the lab exam on Tuesday. Once the students are finished with the exams, they become tourists enjoying the hospitality of our Iranian hosts. And the word from Isfahan is that the students are enchanted by the hospitality and the beauty of the host country.

On the other hand, once the students have finished the exams, the heavy work shifts to the coaches and academic leaders. Preliminary scoring of all of the exams is done by the Iranians, and then the coaches of the separate countries review the exams and the scoring seeking to find another point, or half a point or even a tenth of a point that would move a student into a medalist category.

During the day on Thursday, the Iran organizers and their colleagues spent a good part of the day scoring the exams. The students were taken on a camping trip, while the coaches visited an out-of-town village.

Late Thursday night, close to midnight in Iran, our coaches got preliminary scores for our five students. After intense scrutiny of the answer sheets and the preliminary scores, our coaches will prepare for ‘moderation.’ Can they develop a reasonable argument that one student deserves an additional few tenths of a point on the answer to one question. Maybe another student deserves as much as one-half point, or perhaps even a full point or more. Most of Friday will be dedicated to this extended set of negotiations on behalf of the students.

While all of the scores are exposed to the moderation process, our coaches will focus their attention on those US students whose preliminary score is at the boundary between two recognition levels. Can one student be elevated from a very high bronze to a low silver, or from an honorable mention to a bronze, or even from a silver to a gold medal.

In some years of this international competition, the moderation is especially important because of issues surrounding the quality of the preliminary scores. The word from our coaches in Iran, however, is that the Iranian hosts seem to have done an excellent job with the scoring. This will likely mean that the final scores will be very close to the preliminary scores.

Our students and coaches report effusively about the cordiality of the Iranian hosts and populace. The US Team attracts a moderate level of interest from the local population, and our coaches and students consistently describe themselves as being warmly welcomed.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The tour guide for buss 22; that's the bus that the USA team leaders ride on. She is probably looking for either Paul or one of the other leaders.

Bus 12 waiting to return to IUT after touring and dinner at the palace of forty pillars. You can see one of the pillars behind the sign.

Wednesday Notes from the Senior Coach

On Tuesday evening we had dinner at the Club of Melli Bank after a delightful stroll along the banks of the river to see the historical bridges of Isfahan. The competitors and leaders strolled the banks separately, but ate dinner together; the leaders arrived first and paced nervously while waiting for their competitors to arrive.

Team USA, which rides on bus 12, was the last of the groups to arrive. We had staked out a table and ten chairs along the patio for the team, the leaders, our observers, and the two Iranian guides. We then settled down to a meal where the conversation kept returning to the performance on the experimental examination.

I think we all agreed that the experiment was challenging to complete in five hours. Not impossible, and not unreasonable, but challenging. We still don't know the marks on either the theory or the experiment, although the leaders will get the marks soon.

That is, of course, if Paul doesn't manage to completely frustrate the tour guide for the leaders' bus. Looking after the leaders while sightseeing is somewhat like herding cats, except that cats are more likely to come if you call. Our tour guide has shown incredible patience!

One nice surprise was the local man who came up and read a poem in Farsi for Rui as a Isfahan birthday greeting. Then we sang.

On Wednesday the leaders toured Hasht Behesht palace and the Chelel-Sotoun Museum. Chelel-Sotoun was the summer palace, also known as the palace of forty pillars, even though there are only twenty. You can find the other twenty in a reflection in the pool. In the afternoon we toured the Jame Mosque and the bazaar, where store owners were only too glad to help us to unload our currency. But polite and fair, though frightening at first, the bargaining aspect of making purchases can be fun, particularly when the store owner tries to help you to bargain. Something like playing poker, where your opponent asks to see your card so he can recommend a bid…..

We joined the students for dinner. Mostly happy, although the reality of the exam being finished, yet not knowing the results, weighs heavily on a few. But spirits were lifted high by the open air dinner, singing and clapping and talking; and the continued gracious hospitality and friendship of our Iranian guides.

Paul Stanley
Dobson Professor of Physics
Beloit College

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Tuesday comments from the Team members

It is now 7:30PM (Iran time) on Tuesday, July 17, and the students just called to chronicle their day.

They woke up very early this morning, had breakfast, went to the Gym and then sat in virtual seclusion for 5 hours as they worked and worked on the Experimental Exam.

Once the exam was over, they enjoyed about 3 hours of free time going over the exam and just enjoying everyone with a release of satisfaction that it was finally over!!.

They were interviewed by the Iranian Student Parliament. These are advisors to the Ministry of Education. After the interview, they toured a Cathedral, built by Armenian immigrants, and the Historic Bridges.

Dinner, with the coaches, consisted of the major food groups: Meat, Lamb, Chicken, Rice ,watermelon and sesame bread. Not surprisingly, the conversation was largely a discussion of the lab exam.

Jenny has enjoyed being with her female counterparts. We remarked on how beautiful she looked in the pictures we have seen. She reported that the tour guide has been gracious in lending her such beautiful scarves.

Clearly, the USA team members are enjoying themselves and making very good friends. While science is an international and cross-cultural language, science by students is even more universal.