A Top Three Team at Yale Physics Olympics

Millbrook School’s Physics Olympians hit the road and headed to New Haven, CT, to test their mettle at the annual Yale Physics Olympics on October 12, 2019. Drawing over 30 teams from the region, the daylong event challenges students to apply their laboratory and classroom experience to a series of five timed tests. The three-person squad from Millbrook—Kevin Wang ’20, Hanji Xu ’21 and Tom Powell ’22—had to work extra hard since they had one fewer member than most other teams.
Though a deep and wide knowledge of math and physics are prerequisites for success in the Olympics, team members can be “specialists” who may have favorite events and subjects in which they excel. According to science instructor Jeff LaCosse, Wang, a two-time Olympian, shines in the Fermi Quiz, an event in which rapid estimation and calculation are combined with math and physics acumen to estimate an answer to an often incalculable question.
Xu brought cohesion to the team along with a sharp engineering mind and a wealth of extra-curricular experience. Powell’s skill at planning, building and repairing mechanical devices proved to be invaluable in competing in several of the events. Experience gained in Millbrook’s Advanced Physics Mechanics course, in which students design and undertake experiments, proved especially valuable to Millbrook’s competitors.
Often the events involve the posing of a question, the prediction of an outcome and then a real-life test to assess the accuracy of the prediction. LaCosse described how the team designed a device intended to launch an object. The device did not deploy as planned, but a “happy accident” that caused the launcher itself to malfunction still allowed the team to succeed in the test.
The Yale Physics Olympics is a well-known event, and achieving success looks great on a college application. Millbrook’s well-rounded team claimed a very respectable third place, despite their smaller crew.
“The kids were surprised they got third place with a small team. Millbrook physics students are competitive,” said LaCosse, “They aren’t students who just go and do things for fun. They are competitive nationally with other schools.”
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