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Students gather for a group photo at the 2023 US Physicists' Tournament

Underdogs: OSU students win national physics tournament, advance to international stage

Thursday, February 23, 2023

Media Contact: Harrison Hill | Senior Research Communications Specialist | 405-744-5827 |

After years of trying to get a physics team together at Oklahoma State University, Rosty Martinez, Ph.D. student, compiled his squad out of an even mix of six undergraduate and graduate students.

These students would go on to win the U.S. Physicists’ Tournament in their first year and ultimately be chosen to represent the United States at the international level.

“We were like the underdog team,” Martinez said. “The other teams had been there before. We felt like the humble team no one knew about.”

Universities that register for the annual tournament and are given a list of up to 10 problems to solve, typically focusing on no more than five at a time to maximize full effort. Problems at the tournament are randomly chosen from the list for teams to solve. 

Points are awarded based on teams’ abilities to solve the problems, as well as their critiques and rebuttals of the solutions of other teams.

The tournament was held at the University of California, Berkeley and included students representing the University of California, Santa Barbara, as well as OSU. 

Once the problems were revealed, the clock started ticking. The OSU physics team worked for months on a select few assigned by the committee. They determined how to calculate the  number of matches inside of a matchbox without opening it and even created the largest stack ring made out of Pringles. Martinez said the complexity of simple things is what made solving these problems so fun. 

“The beauty of it is that you can put really complicated science into solving daily basis problems,” Martinez said. “But, they're kind of fun to think about.”

While they were unable to send all six members to compete in-person, they managed to send two, with the rest of the team joining in virtually. Sumit Biswas, a master’s student and also team captain, was one of the in-person attendees. 

When the problem of the Pringles ring was presented to the team members, they knew victory was within sight. After all, it was the problem they had spent the most time on. Dr. Joe Haley, associate professor of physics and faculty advisor for the team, reminded his students to keep a level head. 

“Everyone on the Zoom thought it was awesome,” Haley said. “But I reminded them to not get too confident, to not get overly complacent.”

Between the points awarded from solving the problems and their rebuttals, OSU placed first in the tournament overall. Biswas said he will never forget the moment his team won it all. 

“It was probably one of the best moments in my life,” Biswas said. “There was excitement, but we also carried some emotions for our institute. When they showed OSU’s name on top of everyone else’s, it was a moment of pride.”

Their victory resulted in OSU being selected to represent the U.S. in the International Physicists’ Tournament held in April. Countries submit problems to the international committee to be selected to compete. OSU’s submission ranked second among submissions from 16 other countries. The location changes each year, with this year’s tournament being held in Paris, hosted by the Ècole Polytechnique.

Martinez, a native of Venezuela, attended the IPT with the Venezuelan team in 2017 when it was held in Sweden. He recalls how the experience had a profound impact on him personally. 

“You're meeting people who are doing similar stuff to you,” Martinez said. “It's really interesting to see how they think, how they attack problems and make them work. Now, thanks to that, I have friends from different parts of the world.”

OSU’s victory at the U.S. Physicists’ Tournament was more than just an award. A group of six students stepped on a new stage for the first time and not only won a national tournament, but are advancing to the international level in their first year. 

With one title under their belts, the team looks forward to what’s in store in Paris.

“No matter the result, if we learn and have fun, we're there, we're ready,” Martinez said. “Let's see how far we can get.”

The OSU physics team has launched a PhilanthroPete page to help fund their travels to the international tournament in April.

Story by: Sam Milek | OSU Brand Management Intern

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