Notre Dame hosts the 2016 Physics Olympics

Author: Chontel Syfox

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The annual Physics Olympics, hosted by the Notre Dame Physics Department and the Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) Program returned to the Jordan Hall of Science this week. The event brings together students from Michigan State University, Purdue University, and Notre Dame, who work collaboratively to solve physics problems.

This year a total of 49 undergraduate students from Michigan State, Purdue, and Notre Dame partook in the daylong Physics Olympics. Twelve teams consisting of four students from each college competed in three events, under the watchful eyes of graduate and undergraduate Notre Dame students who acted as judges. 

In the Bungee Madness event students were expected to use their knowledge of science to construct miniature bungees, which they then released from the third floor balcony in the Jordan Hall of Science. Each team of students used sandbags and rubber bands to construct a bungee that would travel the furthest distance to the ground without touching it.

The Raft in Dire Straits event saw students tasked with constructing rafts out of foil. Each team competed to build the strongest raft, capable of carrying a heavy load without sinking.

In the Faraday Pickup event students were tasked with creating electromagnets. Each team was provided with nails, copper wire, tape, and batteries, and worked together to create an electromagnet that could pick up as many as paperclips as possible. 

Now in its 30th year the REU program is a ten-week summer program in which rising juniors and seniors work with faculty or conduct their own research, in order to get hands-on experience in various areas of physics. 

Professor Umesh Garg, director of the REU program, oversees the annual Physics Olympics. “It is,” he says, “where the REU students apply their basic physics knowledge to simple problems, learn to work together as a team, and have fun doing it. Over the years, the students have mentioned the Physics Olympics as a major highlight of their REU experience.”

Originally published by Chontel Syfox at on June 15, 2016.

Originally published by Chontel Syfox at on June 15, 2016.