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Semiahmoo Secondary Physics Team brings home bronze at UBC Physics Olympics

FqbRThkaMAAiOFf.jpgThe Semiahmoo Secondary physics club has done it again, bringing home a bronze medal from this year’s UBC Physics Olympics.

The event marked the first in-person competition since the pandemic began and saw the Semiahmoo team face 65 other teams from around the province.

“The students were a little anxious, but also so excited to be back in person and amongst like-minded students and teams,” said Semiahmoo physics teacher Louay El Halabi.

Comprised of 24 Grade 11 and 12 students from the school’s senior science and International Baccalaureate programs, the Semiahmoo physics team tackled a series of challenges that would test their engineering and physics know-how with real-life applications using pre-built devices that would perform in a competition Vacuum%20Pump%20Build-1.jpgThe Semiahmoo team working on their vacuum pump.setting.

The first challenge was to design and build a vacuum pump that continually reduces air pressure in a container that has a leak in it, which was then followed by a second pre-build event featuring a marine ambulance.

“The marine ambulance requires students to build a boat only from cardboard and plastic wrap,” explained El Halabi. “The boat then has to ferry a smartphone across a 2.5-metre channel in the shortest amount of time with the least amount of acceleration.”

In addition to the building aspects of the competition, there were two labs to complete that explored the topics of mass and aerodynamic drag, followed by two knowledge sessions made up of a Jeopardy-like “Quizzics” game and a set of “Fermi Questions” to problem solve.

“Each event is scored differently and your overall score is based on a tally of all of those performances,” said El Halabi.

Once the points were calculated, the team came in third overall, adding yet another medal to the Semiahmoo Physics Team’s trophy case.

 “We’ve been doing this for 15 years now and we’ve placed in the top 10 for 13 of those years,” said El Halabi. “Three of those years, including last year, were first-place finishes."

Marine%20Ambulance-1.jpgThe marine ambulance build.Given the team’s success year after year, El Halabi noted that Semiahmoo has developed something of a reputation in the physics circle, which has also meant more eyes and more scrutiny.

“Our students were wearing their school hoodies and others would come by and say, ‘Oh, so you’re the ones to look out for,’” he laughed. “It’s a bit of a double-edged sword because of the expectation, but you just need to have the students do their best and make sure they’re having fun, because that’s the ultimate goal for the whole thing.”

To learn more about the UBC Physics Olympics, click here.

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