Kicking A** at Physics

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Kicking A** at Physics

Opportunities for SPS students in the international physics student community


Molly McDonough, Associate Research Physicist, PhD Student, The Pennsylvania State University

The Physics League Across Numerous Countries for Kick-ass Students (PLANCKS) is an annual event hosted by a member committee of the International Association of Physics Students (IAPS). During the event, teams of three or four undergraduate and master’s students representing their home countries compete to solve high-level physics problems. The problems, written and graded by a panel of professors, span all varieties of physics, including glaciers, particle physics, graphene, astrophysics, skyrmions, and more.

The top three teams receive prize money in denominations of Planck’s constant, ℏ∕2, ℏ∕3, and ℏ∕4 times 1037 euros, respectively. Typically, each country hosts a preliminary competition between December and February to determine the team that will go to the finals in late spring, May or June. Preliminary competitions are conducted in the same spirit as the finals: a university hosts, professors write and grade the problems, and a winning team is selected.

Typically, the finals are hosted at a university in an IAPS member country. Every year during the International Conference for Physics Students (ICPS), member countries turn in proposals and place bids to be the following year’s host. The schedule may include three to four days of tours, lectures, workshops, laboratory tours, social events, cultural excursions, and, of course, the competition.

Due to COVID-19, PLANCKS 2020 and 2021 went virtual with 36-hour, nonstop competitions that accounted for the various time zones of IAPS members from over 45 countries.

Whether conducted in person or virtually, PLANCKS provides an opportunity to interact and network with physics students across the globe. Members of SPS are also members of IAPS, meaning they are welcome to participate in any of the association’s events, including ICPS and PLANCKS. The other annual event IAPS hosts is IAP2CERN, which takes place in April and gives 20 students the opportunity to spend four days in Switzerland touring CERN and immersing themselves in local cultural activities. Students are welcome to submit applications to attend, and the applications are reviewed by the Executive Committee.

Similarly to SPS, IAPS is deeply rooted in giving back to the greater community, holding global service events. For example, on the International Day of Light (May 16th of each year), IAPS member countries simultaneously (time zones permitting) conduct physics demonstrations themed around light with support from the Institute of Physics (IOP). Additionally, IAPS hosts an annual School Day, where member countries organize physics demonstrations around a particular theme for K through 12 students.

For more information on PLANCKS, ICPS, IAPS2CERN, and other opportunities to engage with the International Association of Physics Students, visit

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