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Physics Olympiad preparation

  1. Aug 23, 2013 #1
    I've got a Physics Olympiad coming up in a couple of months. Here is one paper from it: http://www.physics.ox.ac.uk/olympiad/Downloads/PastPapers/BPhO_Round_1_2013_prt_2.pdf If you would look through a couple of the questions I'm sure you'll get the flavour. I'll reproduce one of them here:

    (a) The Earth can be approximated by a perfect homogeneous stationary solid sphere, radius RE. A straight smooth tunnel is drilled along a diameter. Show that a particle, mass m, released from the entrance, will perform simple harmonic motion. Determine its period, T1, in terms of RE and g. Hence evaluate T1.

    RE = 6.38 x 103 km

    (b) A straight smooth tunnel is drilled through the Earth, in any direction, from any point on the Earth’s surface, not passing through the centre of the Earth. Determine the motion of a particle released from the entrance and obtain its period of oscillation, T2.

    (c) Compare the period of a satellite orbit, TS, in very close Earth orbit, with T2.

    (d) If the particle is given an increased velocity, when in the middle of the tunnel, what can be deduced about its trajectory when it emerges from the tunnel into space?

    The theory I know already, regarding this question, is F=GmM/r2, basic mechanics (simple harmonic motion, centripetal motion, etc., if that was ever needed), Newton's laws etc. So not that much. Everything else has to be worked out.

    Where can I get a book, or something online, with many more problems like this and their worked solutions? A book would be ideal because then it would presumably be grouped by topic (e.g. this is gravitation).

    Thanks for any recommendations.
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 24, 2013 #2


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    Staff: Mentor

    This thread has been moved to the "Science Textbook Discussion" forum. While you're waiting for other people to respond, you might try using the forum search feature to search this forum for "olympiad". :smile:
  4. Aug 24, 2013 #3
    How come no-one is responding? It's hard to believe that there is no textbook that many have heard of which suits this kind of question.
    I tried the search but it gives answers not for this exam but for the IPhO, which is a while off yet and different style and level.
  5. Aug 24, 2013 #4


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    Staff: Mentor

    Oh... when you said a Physics Olympiad, I thought you meant the Physics Olympiad, i.e. the IPhO, that lots of people ask about here...
  6. Aug 24, 2013 #5
    Consider these two articles for How to Prepare for IPhO
    Yohanes Surya: A physicist with many dreams | The Jakarta Post
    Yohanes Surya: Boosting brilliant minds | The Jakarta Post
    Yohanes Surya is America Returned Indonesian Physicist who trained Indonesian Physics Team in 2006 and lead Indonesia at Top in IPhO, in the year 2006 Indonesia team was World Winner in Physics.

    University Physics is widely used worldwide for IPhO Preparation.
    500 Service Unavailable Error

    If you are comfortable with Resnick, Halliday, Krane 5th Edition and time permits to do so then consult with that book too.

    Problem Books
    I E Irodovs' Problems in Physics.
    200 Puzzling Problems in Physics.

    CRUX Mathmaticorum for Problem Solving attitude developement

    Physics Olympiad Preparation in TORonto (POPTOR)
    POPTOR — Department of Physics

    MIT OCW Course 8

    Yale Open Physics Course.

    US Physics Team
    American Association of Physics Teachers - AAPT.org

    Physics olympiad srilanka at
    Institute of Physics, Sri Lanka

    Physics olympiad Bangladesh at
    Bangladesh Physics Olympiad

    IPhO Preparation is not a thing of two months, If you have only two months then do only Textbook and AP Physics C Problems.

    Disclaimer: I am Asian Physics Olympiad Gold Medalist and IPhO Semifinalist (Runnerup).

  7. Aug 25, 2013 #6


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    Homework Helper

    My advice is always to start with learning everything that is covered by the exam. This is the main outcome for me of competitions, that you get to learn interesting things. Once you know the content, start attacking more difficult questions. If you found that recent IPhO thread, I said the same there and once before.

    I entered math competitions but could never reach my country's final. Later I looked back on it and realised I didn't know the whole syllabus, so I was applying inferior techniques to problems that if I had learned about, I would know how to solve much quicker. Physics may be different but I'll always say it is better to have seen it before.
  8. Aug 25, 2013 #7
    I mean a National round of the same. But nonetheless it's a slightly different style of question (and considerably lower level).

    Where do you find more difficult questions? The problem with this question paper is that (contrary to the IPhO) there is only one written past paper in this format. That's why I would have appreciated a book of similarly difficult questions, but which don't require the level of theory an IPhO needs.

    Thanks for the recommendations. I am not preparing for the IPhO but for the British Olympiad, a National round of the IPhO, for which I have only two months.

    Could you please have a look at the question I posted? I am sure it will become clear to you what the level and style is and then your recommendations would help me a lot. And what do you mean "Textbook" problems? Which textbook?
  9. Aug 25, 2013 #8


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    I know that past papers for British competitions are available here and I found some links here (Google groups):

    I copied them thinking that link might disappear.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  10. Aug 25, 2013 #9
    Thanks for the links to papers. I am also looking for a book/books, could you please have a look at the question I posted in the OP and give a recommendation based on that?
  11. Aug 25, 2013 #10
    University of Maryland Problems of the Week

    British Physics Olympiad Books (not recommended by anyone because it is just collection of Previous Problems with Full length Solutions.)
    British Physics Olympiads - Book 1: V. Simeonova, N. Nenov: 9781451501780: Amazon.com: Books
    British Physics Olympiads - Book 2: AS Competition & Physics Challenge: V. Simeonova, N. Nenov: 9781450597791: Amazon.com: Books

    Books with same difficulty level as I E Irodov can be downloaded from Mir Books | Books from the Soviet Era
    (don't know site is legal or not)

    here you can meat others who are preparing for various Olympiads from UK
    AoPS forum - British • Art of Problem Solving
    (Disclaimer: I work for AoPS)
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  12. Aug 25, 2013 #11
    Hello Big-Daddy,

    I'm a olympiad student too. So, I try (as you) to find good resources to prepare to the exams. There are many books and websites to study to Physics (National or International) Olympiads.

    Irodov - Problems in General Physics
    Krotov - Aptitude Test Problems in Physics
    Saraeva - Problemas Selecionados de Física Elementar (Portuguese title, but its a russian book)
    David Morin - Introduction to classical mechanics
    peter Gnadig - 200 puzzling physics problems

    On the internet, we can find many interesting sites. As harvard problems of the week.
    These days, when I was searching for a problem, I found a good physics challenges website. I think it's a new site, but it's interesting for preparing to physics olympiads contests:


    There I found the most complete page to links to all over the world physics olympiad competitions:

    Physics Contests Around the World

    And the most complete solution to "Cube of Resistors Problem":
    Cube of Resistors Problem

    Other VERY GOOD website its:

    Physics[/PLAIN] [Broken] Challenge for
    Teachers and Students

    There you can study the solutions of the problems to help you to improve your hability to solve physics olympiads problems.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  13. Sep 10, 2013 #12
    Many of you have quoted Irodov, which I then bought.

    It appears that Irodov does not contain simple harmonic motion - which is the one topic in the only question I wrote in my OP. Or does Irodov have SHM - which page then?
  14. Sep 10, 2013 #13
    It does have SHM problems. Look under "Part 4 Oscillations and Waves" or specifically, "Mechanical Oscillations".
  15. Sep 22, 2013 #14
    Hello. I'd like to know whether complete understanding of concepts presented in University Physics and solutions of all Irodov's Problems in General Physics are enough to take a medal from international olympiads such as APhO, IPhO and WoPhO.
  16. Sep 23, 2013 #15


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    Homework Helper

    No. It's not enough (in general, but for a particular person it might be). First, this won't guarantee that you will know how to answer the questions. It means you have enough background knowledge but the questions will need a lot of ingenuity to solve. It means you can identify angles of attack for each question but you would still need to identify which is going to work.

    Second, there is a speed and time management requirement. You will need to work quickly to do well and you will need time management, in the sense that you must pick out the questions that are going to be quickest to solve, solve them as quickly as you can, then look at the more difficult/more lengthy questions. You will need discipline to know when to leave a question and move on. For me, this is most difficult, to say, I've gone wrong, I must move on, or the question looked easy, I've spent two minutes on it, I realise it is more difficult than I thought, I must move on.

    Third, there is what I call a space requirement. Let's call a question narrow if it is long but each step presents you with only a few options, most of which are quickly shown to be wrong. You can compare this to solving a maze: if each wrong branch is short, the maze is easy to solve. Homework problems have this character. On the other hand, wide questions present you with many potential methods of solution without it being obvious how to even start.

    My intuition is that the questions in competitions like these fall into three categories: knowledge-heavy but narrow, knowledge-light but wide, and a combination of these. The combination questions are easier, there so that most competitors can answer some questions. The other two categories are more difficult. The knowledge-heavy ones are easier in my opinion because the knowledge is esoteric but if you have that knowledge, the questions won't be so difficult. I have no advice for the "how do I even start" type questions, throw everything you can at them but nothing is guaranteed. Also, depending on the competition, there may be no knowledge-light questions.
  17. Sep 25, 2013 #16
    Thanks a lot. I heard that Kleppner Kolenlov's Intro to Mechanics, Griffith's Intro to Electrodynamics are popular among physics students but I also know that these books are very old. Is it a problem? Are there any better books, and which book about optics, molecular physics, waves, thermodynamics and modern physics would you advise me to use while preparing for international physics competitions? (I have a non-calculus based physics background)
  18. Sep 25, 2013 #17
    I can guarantee that you won't regret Kleppner, no idea about the others though.

    Irodov also have problems on optics, waves, thermodynamics etc and they are quite challenging too. But as far as I know, many of them require Calculus.
  19. Sep 26, 2013 #18
    To what extent does Irodov's require calculus? Anything beyond integration of polynomials and basic trigonometric functions?
  20. Sep 26, 2013 #19
    I don't exactly know to what extent it requires the use of Calculus. I randomly pick up a few problems to solve and I guess basic Calculus is enough. For instance, you can check the following threads I have posted in the past, these discuss some problems from the Irodov's book.



    https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=698793 (This one is quite interesting :smile: )







    But I suggest you to go through the book yourself. Good luck!
  21. Sep 27, 2013 #20
    Could you, please, help me to make a list of books to be read and solved until 2015 Physics competitions?
  22. Oct 5, 2013 #21
    Also, does the material of the University Physics textbook cover the IPhO's syllabus completely? What about its mathematical level? Is it the same as the questions' of the competition? (sorry for double-post, I really need your help)
  23. Oct 5, 2013 #22
    The level of mathematics in IPhO is pretty heavily restricted, so if you can integrate and differentiate, you'll be fine. In that respect, any university physics textbook which is calculus based will be fine to teach you the concepts, but the problem solving won't be advanced enough.
  24. Oct 6, 2013 #23


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    You'll need to work your way up through past papers from lesser competitions. That is where you'll find the type of problems you need to practice.
  25. Oct 11, 2013 #24
    Thanks a lot. I would like to ask those ones who are very familiar with IPhO: are the Electromagnetism and Mechanics concepts the only ones which always(every year) appear in the competition?
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