Harker hosts annual U.S. Invitational Young Physicists Tournament


Riya Godbole

Students from Rye Country Day school in Rye, New York present their findings at the United States Association for Young Physicists Tournament hosted at Harker this year. This was the last year this competition was held at Harker.

The Upper School hosted and won the annual international United States Association for Young Physicists Tournament (USAYPT), held Friday, Jan. 31, and Saturday, Feb. 1.

The tournament featured a range of schools from around the globe, including two teams from Tunisia, two teams from China, one team from the Republic of Georgia, and several teams from the United States. Seven students represented the Harker team: Captain Nitya Mani (11), Shreyas Parthasarathy (12), Elina Sendonaris (10), Nathan Dalal (11), Harry Xu (11), Vivek Bhardwaj (10) , and Sanil Rajput (10).

Throughout the course of the year, competing teams were asked to devise solutions to four physics problems. This year’s problems included designing and building a foucault pendulum to predict a geographic location, measuring the maximum height of a free-standing, roughly stable ball stack, explaining why the angle between the edges of a wake behind an object traveling on a surface of water is independent of the object, and developing a theory that predicts the spacing between magnet stacks of various quantities on a slender pole.

“Well, I think it was good for Harker to be able to show off a little bit,” Mark Brada, Upper School physics teacher and USAYPT Local Organizing Chair said, expressing sentiments of satisfaction in regards to hosting the tournament.

According to Brada, the tournament was modeled on a scientific conference. The competition was run with a debate-style format, in which opposing teams argued their proposed solutions to the four given problems in “Physics Fights.” Each team was judged by a preselected jury on scientific accuracy, analysis, and evidence. Four semifinalist teams were selected to compete for the final trophy, while the remaining teams presented posters on their work.

“Overall, it was fantastic. Harker has great facilities and a really great support staff to help a function like this come off well, so my experience has been very positive,” he said.

Nitya enjoyed the tournament because it was a blend of her two favorite activities: physics and debate.

“The purpose of the physics tournament is to foster interest in physics research, and it’s a way of presenting physics in a novel way by debating about it, which gives a better understanding. We’re thinking not only about our approach to a problem, but also about different approaches,” she said.

Tyler Kaye, a student at Rye Country Day School in Rye, New York, believes that the tournament not only offered students the chance to compete with other physicists, but also allowed them to “hang around with a bunch of kids who are interested in the same things they are.” He particularly enjoyed the Upper School’s cuisine.

“I’m wondering if they accept senior transfer applicants currently, or maybe I could just fly here for the lunch every once in a while. That [would] be fantastic,” he said.

Like Brada, Upper School physics teacher Miriam Allersma served as both a mentor for the Harker team and a member of the USAYPT board, which helped to coordinate the logistics of the event and made sure everything ran smoothly.

“I think that [the Harker team] did a great job. It’s always hard because there’s so many different things going on at school. But I think that students were into their projects as much as they could be. I think they prepared well and made good slides,” she said.

Harker team member Nathan Dalal (11) agreed with this opinion, believing that his team did “fantastically” and was able to articulate its arguments and oppose the other teams well.

“Using the knowledge we already had from our projects, we were able to find loopholes in the opposing teams’ arguments,” he said.

As of now, this is the last year Harker is expected to host the event.