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Young physicists compete in Oak Ridge-based national tournament
Participants in the 2011 USA Young Physicists Tournament gather in the lobby of the SNS Building at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. (ORNL photo) (hi-res image)
Greg Jacobs of the U.S. Association of Young Physicists said the event is different from what one might expect at a traditional science competition.
"We have physics debates among high school teams that have prepared graduate-level research problems," Jacobs said during a tour of the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory for about 65 of the tournament participants. "If you think of national high school forensics league-style debates, it is the same thing except it is over physics problems rather than public policy."
Participants need more than just a strong talent for physics in order to succeed.
"You find that the students who participate in this competition are particularly gifted at communicating their understanding of physics," Jacobs noted. "They can do physics research, but they don't just take tests. They can now do undergraduate level research projects. They not only do projects, but also talk about them and ask other people questions about them. That is how real physics is done."
The Harker School of San Jose, Calif., won the team competition, finishing ahead of Rye Country Day School of Rye, N.Y.
Oak Ridge High School was the only Tennessee team entered and made a respectable showing.
ORNL is managed by UT-Battelle for the Department of Energy's Office of Science.