Crater research leads to w-hole lot of awards for Perse physicists

Gabriel Cirstea

Perse physics students have made a massive impact in prestigious competitions with their in-depth research projects.

Gabriel Cirstea (Lower Sixth) won Gold and the overall title in the British Physics Olympiad (BPhO) Experimental Challenge, while Sourish Sharma and Kuan Kuan Lin (both Lower Sixth) teamed up to claim the Gold CREST Award, with all three students investigating impact craters.

They spent many painstaking hours in the lab before and after school dropping ball bearings into sand, varying the drop height and density of the objects to assess the diameter and depth of the craters created for their respective projects.

Gabriel, who will receive his BPhO prize in an award ceremony at The Royal Society next week, said: “You could pick what data you wanted to investigate, so there was a lot of creativity which was really nice. I went for a simple experiment, but went into it in a lot of detail to see what effects it would have.

“I also had to do each test a number of times to get an average and ensure each measurement was more accurate. While doing the experiment, there were certainly some highs and lows, but all these little things taught me so much about the scientific process.”

After collecting his data, Gabriel produced a 5,000-word evaluation, analysing the relationships between the depth and diameter of the craters and the effects of the ball bearings to create an index that could be used to calculate the energy of an impacting object.

As well as gaining skills in using programs such as Excel and LaTeX, he felt the project as a whole, supervised by physics teacher Myles Thomson, had been extremely rewarding.

Gabriel said: “Being able to take some data you’ve collected yourself and quantify it was amazing, especially when comparing the results with those of other scientists who have done it and are much more qualified and finding they agree.

“I’m elated to have won the competition after all the hours that were put into it, but that’s just an extra bit on top of what I actually gained from doing the project and I’m really thankful for having had the opportunity.”

Sourish Sharma (left) and Kuan Kuan Lin

Meanwhile, Sourish and Kuan Kuan, who had also been working towards the BPhO Experimental Challenge, entered their project into the CREST Award scheme and achieved a clean sweep across all criteria.

Kuan Kuan said: “We were trying to create a model that would be applicable to a larger scale. We particularly focused on the Moon and we were able to try to model it in sand in such a way that it would be as close as possible to the real situation.”

Besides a 5,000-word report, they also had to compile a 2,000-word log providing an overview of the decisions they made and what they learned along the way.

Sourish said: “The writing part is where I learned the most because you had to do it in the same professional style that you would be using to publish full papers. That took a while to learn, but it was really nice when it all came together.”

For Sourish, it was the second year in a row he had earned a Gold CREST Award, having previously achieved the accolade for designing and making a word clock, which spelled out the time through letters lit up in a range of colours.

He said: “That was a creative project and this was an investigative project, so to get the award in two different fields is a nice feeling.

“It was really rewarding to design an experiment, then run it and reflect on what went well and what didn’t.”

Kuan Kuan added: “It was a really valuable thing to have done, especially as it’s going to be quite similar to what you would do at university. It’s fantastic to have won the award because it shows our work has been recognised as we gained a lot of knowledge from doing it.”


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