Perse pupil set to star in international astronomy competition
28 Apr 2021
Emma Harris (Year 11) will be aiming for the stars after being selected to represent the UK at the International Olympiad on Astronomy & Astrophysics (IOAA).
At just 16, she is likely to be one of the youngest participants in the competition, which is set to take place in Colombia in November, depending on Covid-19 restrictions.
Emma was chosen for the five-strong UK team following a recent online training camp of 15 students who had been earmarked following their results in the British Astronomy & Astrophysics Olympiad and Senior Physics Challenge.
She had taken part in the latter competition, which is aimed at Lower Sixth students, and was delighted just to be picked to attend the training camp, let alone then be chosen for the IOAA team.
“It was a bit of a shock and I was just really happy,” said Emma. “I didn’t anticipate it at all and I feel greatly honoured to have been chosen for the team.
“I’d never looked into astronomy at all before, but we were given a lot of preparation material before the camp and that gave me a chance to read into the topics I didn’t know so well. The camp made me realise it’s a really interesting branch of physics and I think it may be something I want to study in the future.”
Emma and her fellow finalists spent 12-hour days studying at the training camp, covering topics ranging from stellar evolution to cosmology, before sitting a two-hour data analysis paper and a three-hour theory test.
She said “There were a lot of interesting topics you wouldn’t normally even cover on the A level physics syllabus, so it was just a great opportunity in itself to learn about some new things.
“There was no time to revise during the camp itself, it was just trying to absorb as much information as you could. The theory paper was especially difficult and it took a lot of perseverance.”
Emma hopes the IOAA goes ahead as an in-person event as 25% of the marks would be based on observation with the chance to use high-powered telescopes to gaze at the universe.
She said: “It would be a great experience to go to the Olympiad in Colombia, but depending on Covid, even if it ends up being run as a global e-competition instead, I’m really looking forward to it.”