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First Semiahmoo Secondary. Then Cambridge. And now Oxford. It’s been a year of academic achievements for Tristan Downing.
The 17-year-old Semiahmoo International Baccalaureate (IB) program grad has just been named to the five-member Canadian Physics Team that will compete in the International Physics Olympiad in July. The competition will take him first to Oxford University for a week of preparation before traveling to Tallinn, Estonia for the 43rd annual event July 15 to 24.
This is after winning a full entrance scholarship worth $200,000 to the University of Cambridge in January and being part of the Semiahmoo team that won the UBC Physics Olympics in April. It was the second year in a row that a Semi team won the UBC event.
“It’s been a series of pleasant surprises,” says Tristan of his whirlwind year.To qualify for the national team, Tristan had to write the Canadian Association of Physicists high school exam. He finished in first place in B.C., with four other Semi students in the top 21; 842 students from 150 schools wrote the exam across Canada.
After the CAP exam, Tristan and other top scoring students were invited to try out for the Canadian national team at UBC, where students spent a week writing four five-hour tests. The written tests were on quantum mechanics and relativity; two experimental tests required students to express their knowledge of solar power and determine the structure of plastic by shining a laser through it.
“I found I was doing everything I knew how to do in the first two hours, and the rest of the time I spent staring at the ground and hoping the answers would pop out,” says Tristan.
Modest, Tristan says he was surprised he was named to the Canadian team, and credits physics teacher Louay El Halabi at Semiahmoo for the success of so many physics students over the years.
“The success in physics from Semiahmoo reflects the quality of instruction from Mr. Halabi. He goes far, far beyond what a teacher needs to do for his class and it really shows. He’s an inspiration to me,” says Tristan. “He’s one of the hardest working people I know.”