Gold for Perse student at international astronomy and astrophysics olympiad

Emma Harris (Lower Sixth) displayed stellar knowledge to strike Gold at the International Olympiad on Astronomy & Astrophysics (IOAA).

With the event unable to take place in the Colombian capital Bogota due to Covid-19 restrictions, she met up with four UK team-mates at Cambridge University as they undertook the contest online under test conditions.

As part of a gruelling week of competition, Emma sat a five-hour theory exam, worth 50% of the overall marks, tackling topics including cosmology, the evolution of stars and celestial mechanics – the study of the motions of celestial bodies, such as planets and asteroids, and how they interact with one another.

She also completed a three-hour data analysis paper and an observational test, which was split into a solar physics and a planetarium exam, on her way to earning the Gold award.

Emma, who was chosen to represent the UK following a training camp and her results in the British Astronomy & Astrophysics Olympiad and Senior Physics Challenge, was thrilled to achieve the top standard in the competition.

“I wasn’t expecting to get a Gold at all, but I’m really happy,” she said. “I knew the paper had gone well, but I didn’t think I’d answered the questions to that level, so it was a really great surprise.”

“A lot depends on the questions that come up in the paper, and it happened that they suited me on the day. As a team, we got two Golds, two Silvers and a Bronze, which is the UK’s best ever result in an IOAA.”

It was such a great experience, and I would love to do it again, so I hope I can get back on the team next year

Emma Harris

Emma enjoyed taking part in the IOAA and felt she had gained a lot from the experience.

She said: “It was very intense, but well worth it. I really enjoyed solving the problems and it was especially rewarding when you have spent some time in getting to the answer.

“Learning more about astronomy was also really exciting as it’s an area of physics where so much of it is in the news. It’s something many people are interested in, and you can read about it without having to understand particularly complex ideas.”

“It was also nice to meet up with the team again. We had a week-long training camp in August, and it was inspirational to meet four other people who are just as interested and excited about the subject as I am.”

Emma has now set her sights on making the UK team for the 2022 IOAA, due to be held in Ukrainian capital Kyiv, but will have to go through the arduous qualification process once more.

She said: “It was such a great experience, and I would love to do it again, so I hope I can get back on the team next year.”


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