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OSU students and faculty traveled to Zurich in March, representing the United States in the International Physicists' Tournament.

OSU Physics Team wins 6th at international tournament

Friday, May 3, 2024

Media Contact: Elizabeth Gosney | CAS Marketing and Communications Manager | 405-744-7497 |

A team of five students from Oklahoma State University’s Department of Physics traveled to Zurich in March to compete in the International Physicists’ Tournament, representing the United States as they placed sixth in the world. 

The 2024 OSU Physics Team consisted of students Brenden Martin, Nathan May, Nathan Rago, Nathan Ross and Jennie Russell, as well as Matthew Maxim from the University of Arizona.

The students were presented with 17 physics problems chosen by the IPT executive committee that revolved around mechanics, fluid dynamics, electricity and magnetism problems. 

“As team members, we choose a problem from the list that interests us. We then discuss our progress on our own, discussing ideas and experiments from literature and mental or physical roadblocks,” Rago said. “The keys to successful teamwork are open-mindedness, patience, and rationality. In solving these complex problems, more often than not, we become very passionate about our interpretation or research, even if it is misguided or wrong.”

The format of the tournament involves three positions in what’s called a “fight”: reporter, opposer and moderator. The opponent challenges the reporter with a physics problem, to which the reporter responds, and then the opponent critiques their solution. After the critique, the moderator facilitates a discussion between the two and aids in enhancing the solution. After the argument concludes, the teams are scored by the judges and the format repeats with the team’s rotating positions. 

The team collectively said that besides the complex questions, the most difficult aspect was managing stress.  

“It is essential to keep an open mind about each other's ideas, have patience for criticism, and be rational when talking to another team member about their problem,” Rago said. 

One of the team’s questions was called the “Bright Spot,” which required them to investigate how a bright spot can be created in the middle of a shadow of a spherical object when shined with a light. 

“Our team developed a solution using the mathematical principle of the evolute, where we trace out every point on the curve of the resultant shadow,” Ross said. “We then tested this by replicating Arago-Poisson's Dot experiment with differing shapes and seeing if the evolute principle holds. The solution utilized a lot of wave optics and mathematical principles.”

Between the fierce competition and urge to win, the team said the tournament’s environment was like no other.

“You could tell in the build up to the semifinals how much everyone wanted to win, which made it that more intense,” Ross said. “We could tell early on how tough competing against the top universities would be, but we enjoyed the challenge and fared pretty well against the rest of the world.”

May explained that the time and effort it took to prepare for both the U.S. Physicists’ Tournament and International Physicists’ Tournament was comparable to enrolling in an additional college course.

“But there is no guarantee that the problem you prepared for will be chosen [during competition],” May said.

To ensure members got the chance to showcase the work they’d done through the previous two semesters, the OSU Physics Team hosted a mock fight for their peers in a condensed format after returning from Zurich.

“On top of that, one of the most frequent questions we get when advertising participation in the competition is, ‘What is a physics fight?’” May said. “So we saw this as a great opportunity to organize an event that would allow our members to present their hard work and give the Department of Physics and OSU science community alike the chance to see a glimpse into exactly what the IPT is all about."

The team said their reason for placing sixth in the world at ITP came from their unique blend of specialties. The team consisted of students majoring in physics, engineering and chemistry.

“I truly think we were among the most gifted teams competing. Everyone contributed some form of strength to the team,” Ross said. “These types of performances are what made us contenders. This wasn’t a one or two person team; all of our members were crucial to our success, along with our team leaders and other contributors.

To learn more about the International Physicists’ Tournament, click here. For more information about physics at OSU, visit the Department of Physics website.

Story By: Jade Dudley, CAS graduate assistant |

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