A big achievement for Israel and the Technion: The Israel student team to the Physics Olympics held in Bangkok returned this morning to Israel with five medals in their luggage: two gold, two silver, and one bronze. At the end of the Olympics Israel was ranked 13th among the 84 countries that participated in the event considered to be one of the most important in the field of science. This year Israel moved up four places over last year, when it was only in 17th place among more than eighty countries.
The result of this year’s competition constitute an unprecedented achievement by the team and by the Technion in Haifa, which is the body that trains the hundreds of participants hoping to reach the Olympics and prepares the five-member team for the Olympics. This is an especially exceptional accomplishment given that each member of the team won a medal.
Every year there are two global Physics Olympics: the first is the Asian Olympics to which every country sends eight competitors, and the second and more important one is the International Olympics to which every country in the world sends five competitors.
The competitors are high school students who undergo rigorous selection and intensive preparation for many weeks at the Technion in Haifa, which as noted is the body responsible for preparing and training them for the Olympics. Dr. Eli Raz, a visiting professor in physics at the Technion and the head of the Department of Physics and Optical Engineering at ORT Braude College and responsible for preparing the delegation, said that “the uniqueness of the Israeli team was that we were able to solve questions in a non-standard way and manner. Our guys used their creativity, which is our weapon, and so Gal Dor, one of the two who won a gold medal, was able to get 29.5 points out of 30 on the theoretical part and pass the four Chinese participants in a competition in which the Chinese usually take first place. Dor also scored higher that the five members of the American team. If you think about the fact that every country sends five competitors, try to imagine what a tremendous advantage the Chinese have when choosing the top five from among a billion and a half people, compared to us who only have seven million residents and we must choose the best five.”
Dr. Raz noted that “in the preparation process we do not see the Olympics as the end in itself but rather as the means to advance professionally; therefore, we challenge our team members during the preparations with questions that will help them advance professionally in the field of physics during their studies and questions that require them to crack and solve complex problems.”
The two gold medals were won by Gal Dor, a student from the Ahad Ha’am High School in Petach Tikvah, and Asaf Rosen, a student in the Motte Gur Ironi 3 High School in Modi’in. The silver medals were won by Ben Finkelstein of Rabin Ironi 2 High School in Modi’in and Gur Peri of Rabin High School in Mazkeret Batya. The bronze medal was won by Aviv Frankel of Leibovitch Memorial Ort in Netanya.
The team members underwent long weeks of difficult training and rigorous selection that began with tests taken by 2,500 outstanding students selected by physics teachers in high schools around the country. Of these, 350 students went on to take regional exams prepared by Technion people. In the third stage, 35 outstanding students came to the Technion for a two-week training camp and after this, during Passover, an additional training camp was held at the Technion. Following this, eight students were chosen to represent Israel at the Asian Physics Olympics. From among these eight students, five were chosen to represent Israel at the International Physics Olympics that were held in Bangkok. According to Dr. Raz, “those who prepare the students in the camp are members of a professional team who have all participated in the past in the Physics Olympics and have a lot of experience in competitions. Alex Finkelstein, who is about to complete his graduate degree in physics at the Technion, heads this team.”
Gal Dor who beat the Chinese sounded very restrained when the delegation landed at Ben-Gurion Airport: “It was nice to win the medal. The truth is that I didn’t expect to beat the Chinese and in reality I was even surprised.” In his words, “we are tired from the plane trip and the competition and now we need to rest. Afterward we will think about how to celebrate the victory.” As to the future, Gal said that “physics really isn’t part of my plans for academic studies, but mathematics is.”