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TOP COMPETITOR: Princeton High School senior Anson Hook will be traveling with a five-member U.S. Physics Team to Korea to compete in the International Physics Olympiad competition this summer. Pictured is Anson receiving his finalist certificate from Dr. Mary Mogge, the academic director for the U.S. Physics Team.
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PHS Senior is One of Five to Compete With U.S. Team in Physics Olympiad

Candace Braun

Representing the United States as one of five students, Anson Hook, a senior at Princeton High School, will be participating in the 35th International Physics Olympiad competition this summer in South Korea.

Olympiad is a nine-day international competition among pre-university students from more than 60 nations. The goal of the competition is to encourage excellence in physics education and to reward outstanding physics students.

"I'm really happy about it," said Anson. "It's not very often you get to represent the United States overseas."

Anson is the first Princeton student since the 1980s to be on the five-member team that will compete.

In Princeton, all high school students are asked to take an entrance exam for the physics competition, which determines the top students in the class. Afterwards, top students may choose to go on to the next level.

"It's mainly self-initiated," said Anson. "If you're motivated, you work hard and prepare so you'll do well on the exam."

Following the entrance exam, students must submit their resume and transcript and take a three-and-a-half hour exam. Twenty-four students are selected at this level to continue as finalists.

This is the second year Anson has made it as one of the top 24 American finalists for the team. For this he traveled to the University of Maryland at the end of May with his classmate, Howard Yu, who also made it to the finalist level. The 10-day camp consisted of nine-hour days of physics, including classes, exams, labs, lectures, and a visit to the Goddard Space Center.

"The classes covered topics not normally taught in the Advanced Placement Physics curriculum, like relativity and thermodynamics," said Howard. "It was all preparation for putting students in the best place to win a gold medal at [Olympiad]."

It was a very intensive learning experience, said Howard: "I am still adjusting to not eating, learning, and doing physics for most of my day."

Making the Team

At the end of the camp, the top five students were selected for the international competition this summer. On July 8, Anson will travel with his team to California for a three-day mini lab session, after which they will leave for Korea. At the final competition students will be asked to solve challenging theoretical and experimental physics problems, after which the top students will be awarded.

"It's just amazing what kind of questions they ask the students," said Cherry Sprague, science supervisor for the Princeton Regional School District. She said that many of the questions she is unable to answer herself because they are so difficult and involved.

Ms. Sprague said she has enjoyed getting to know both finalists from Princeton: "They're delightful to talk with and get to know as people."

The supervisor recalled when Anson, co-captain of the high school swim team, had a conflict on a Saturday morning between an interview for a scholarship, and a swim meet with his classmates. Anson chose to skip the interview because of his dedication to the team.

"He knew he had made a commitment to the team," said Ms. Sprague.

While the swim team didn't win the meet, Anson received a call to reschedule his interview for the scholarship.

A dedicated student, Anson has taken two years of physics and a year of chemistry at Princeton University while still in high school. He said he would like to major in one or both of the subjects when he attends the University in the fall.

Immigrating to the U.S. from China in 1990, Howard first developed his interest in science while in middle school. For the past two years he he has attended Columbia University's Science Honors Program, taking neuroscience and quantum theory classes.

He has also attended Boston University's Program in Mathematics for Young Scientists, and was involved in a neuroscience project in the molecular biology department at Princeton University last summer.

Begun in 1965 among eastern European countries, Olympiad grew to include many western countries in the 1970s, and in 1986, the first U.S. team competed, bringing home three bronze medals, the most ever won by a first-year competing country.

The 2003 U.S. team returned from Olympiad with nine honors, including the top student score in the world, three gold medals, and two silver medals. The cumulative score of the five U.S. students was the highest in the world.

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