International astronomy olympiad awaits Perse student

Emma Harris (Lower Sixth) has qualified for the International Olympiad on Astronomy & Astrophysics for the second year in a row.

She clinched a Gold medal representing the UK in last year’s competition, held online due to Covid-19 restrictions.

However, Emma will have the chance to fly the flag in person at the 2022 IOAA, which takes place in the Georgian city of Kutaisi in August, after being selected for the British team once more.

To reach this stage, Emma excelled in both the British Physics and Astronomy & Astrophysics Olympiads, claiming Gold in the latter competition to earn her place in the team selection camp at Oxford’s Jesus College.

She said: “It feels brilliant to have been selected again. This year it will be held in person, so it should be a great opportunity to meet people from many cultures and countries across the world.

“Last year we met up as a team in Cambridge, but this year everyone will congregate in Georgia and there will be about 300 participants in total.”

The IOAA will include a five-hour theory exam, a three-hour data analysis paper and an observational test, which Emma is particularly setting her sights on.

It should be a great opportunity to meet people from many cultures and countries across the world

She said: “The observational part is worth 25% of the marks and because this year’s competition is in person, we’ll complete it using telescopes in real time.

“Telescopes are very intricate and can be quite fiddly, but Dr Tricker (Head of Physics) has kindly lent me the school’s telescope, which will be really helpful in becoming comfortable with operating one.

“Last year we just got shown star maps on a screen and had to answer questions based on that, whereas this year we’ll have to navigate the night sky as seen from Georgia at whichever time we’re taking the exam and actually have to operate the telescope in real time.

“I’m still getting to grips with how to use it properly, but the amount of detail you can see through the telescope is quite striking.

“With binoculars, you can only see Andromeda as a kind of smudge, but through a telescope, you can see the outline of the galaxy much more clearly.”

Despite her success in the 2021 IOAA, Emma is not getting carried away about this year’s Olympiad.

She said: “I feel a lot more comfortable and familiar with the material this year, but there will always be different problems to solve. It will definitely be an exciting challenge, but I’ll just do my best and enjoy the experience.”


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