The International Physicists' Tournament: A Unique and Unforgettable Experience

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SPS Chapters on Hands-on Projects

The International Physicists' Tournament: A Unique and Unforgettable Experience


Nathan Rago, SPS Chapter President, Oklahoma State University


The US IPT team takes one last picture, in front of the famous Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile, before heading to the airport in Paris, France. Photos courtesy of the chapter.

I was sleep deprived but determined to get my magnetic gear simulations to work. It was early morning, and the only sound piercing the silence of the night was the incessant buzzing of the fluorescent lights casting a harsh glare on my computer screen. In five short hours, the US team of six students and two team leaders from Oklahoma State University would leave for Paris, France, where seven long months of work by teams worldwide would come to a head at the 2023 International Physicists’ Tournament (IPT). 

The multileg red-eye that followed did little to calm my stress as I anticipated the competitive events, called physics fights, coming the next day. But that stress dissipated after we arrived at the hostel—which was nicer than most hotels I’ve stayed in! As teams from different countries arrived, the lobby filled with physics students and professors from all over the world. Instead of tension, the air was filled with jovial excitement as old friends reunited and new friends were made. It was our team’s first time, but the IPT cohort welcomed us quickly, and the friendly conversation calmed our nerves. 


The US team midfight against teams from Poland and Italy.

The next day the competition began. I still remember the walk to the room where our first fight was held. It was a small classroom made for 20 people, but 50 squeezed in, each team and their advisors, judges, and proctors. The room was hot, and participants were apprehensive but eager to begin. Over the past several months, each team had devised solutions to a set of challenging physics problems, and it was now time to present and defend our solutions against other teams in front of judges. With each event the teams became increasingly competitive, but the friendly nature remained. 

During the first two days we competed against teams from Italy, Sweden, France, and Poland, and Team IPT, just to name a few. We saw unique and inspiring solutions to problems we had solved in our own way. Being exposed to all the different thought processes firsthand had a lasting positive impact on me and my team members, inspiring us to look at problems in a different light. 


The US team poses for a photo between physics fights.

After that we had some time to relax. The semifinalists were announced, and many teams congregated to exchange stories and talk about their experiences in their home countries. Later in the week, teams France (Lyon) and Poland tied in an inspiring final round, after which participants enjoyed a community-building gala. Within a week our IPT experience had gone from an anxious beginning to an inspiring end. 

Competing in IPT notably impacted us at Oklahoma State University. One of the team leaders, Rosty Martinez, became the US representative for IPT. Team members who are now PhD candidates, and therefore unable to compete again, are looking into becoming team leaders. This past December, our school hosted a preliminary competition to determine the next US team—and won. We will be representing the US at IPT again in 2024, this time in Zurich, Switzerland. Participating in IPT was an invaluable experience that my teammates and I will carry with us into our future physics careers—a truly unforgettable experience.

Learn More

Find out more about the International Physics Tournament and how your institution can compete to represent your nation at the International Physicists’ Tournament at Only one team is allowed per nation.


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