The UK team returned this week from the 10-day long 12th International Olympiad on Astronomy and Astrophysics (IOAA) in Beijing, having won 2 Silver medals and 2 Honourable Mentions.
Started in 2006, the International Olympiad on Astronomy and Astrophysics (IOAA) is an annual competition at the highest level for secondary school students (who have to be under 20 years at the start of the competition). Some 40+ countries enter teams of 5 students and 2 team leaders.
This year's team consisted of Niam Vaishnav (QEGS Barnet), Emma Bennink (South Hampstead High School), Alex Fisher (Reading School), Isaac Kaufmann (City of London School), and Tom Hillman (St Alban's School), and was led by Charles Barclay FRAS (Marlborough College) and Dr Alex Calverley FRAS (RGS Guildford).
Selection for the UK team (British Astronomy and Astrophysics Olympiad (BAAO) team) takes place via a number of competition papers, sat in schools, in the preceding year, until the final team of 5 (and a reserve) are chosen at a training camp in Oxford. The questions are aimed at years 12 and 13, but the timing of the actual Olympiad tends to affect which year group can actually compete.
"This year the competition was particularly tough (one 5 hour theory paper, one 5 hour data-analysis and a 1 hour observational paper)", said RAS Vice President Charles Barclay, "and we are delighted with the result from this young team of five 17 year olds."
The UK first entered 3 students in 2015 in Indonesia, winning 2 Silver medals. In 2016 the full team of 5 won a gold, a silver and a bronze medal in India (ranking the UK 6th out of 42 countries competing) and in 2017 the team won one silver and 3 bronze medals in Thailand.
This year China hosted the competition and 39 countries competed with the top country teams (in order) being Iran, Russia and China. Russia had the highest scoring student overall. The 13th IOAA will be hosted by Hungary in August next year.