Physics Competitions in Poland

By Zbigniew KozioĊ‚

This year, for the ninth time, a prestigious, international competition for high school students, "First Step to the Nobel Prize in Physics", is being organized by the Institute of Physics of the Polish Academy of Sciences.

Poland has a long tradition of organizing physics competitions for young students. The national Physics Olympiad is in its fifth decade now. Its laureates are accepted with open arms to the best universities, without entrance exams. Most of them choose scientific careers later. Most of the distinguished professors of physics in present-day Poland passed through the Physics Olympiad. Many of them now work all over the world in the best research institutes and universities.

In 1967, the International Physics Olympiad was organized, with Poland as a host country. Initially, except for the Polish team, participants arrived in Warsaw from Czechoslovakia, Romania, Hungary, and Bulgaria only. Now, the Olympiad is being organized all over the world; recently Canada and United States started participating in it. The calendar of events is already booked until the year 2013, when Denmark will host the Olympiad, after Estonia, Belgium, Croatia, Mexico, Vietnam, Iran, Singapore, Spain, South Korea, and other countries.

About 15 years ago, the Institute of Physics of the Polish Academy of Sciences, in co-operation with the Polish Children's Fund, started to organize the so-called Research Workshop on Physics. During the Workshop, pupils selected by the Fund took part in various "adult" research projects being carried out at the Institute. Some results obtained by the Workshop participants were extremely valuable and were later published in scientific literature.

Dr. Waldemar Gorzkowski, the organizer of "First Step to the Nobel Prize in Physics", writes:

"During our time with the pupils at both the Workshop and the Physics Olympiads, we discovered that some of the high school pupils tried to carry out physics research by themselves - at schools, in some laboratories and even at home. It was then - with the permission of the Authorities of the Institute of Physics - that I decided to organize the National Competition in Research Projects on Physics for High School Students. [...] An analysis of the papers submitted to the first national competition inspired me to organize a similar competition on an international scale."

"First Step" targets secondary/high school students who are interested in physics and are willing to perform their own research work. The competition provides students an opportunity to compare their own achievements with those of their colleagues from other countries. Students develop friendly relationships and gain satisfaction from performing real research work in a real physics laboratory. Last year, 174 students from 39 countries participated in this prestigious competition. Many of them will surely play a leading role in physics in the future.

Current information on this and other competitions can be found at and at the ftp site maintained by Dr. Gorzkowski: Please visit these sites. If you are a student, encourage your teachers to learn about "First Step" and start planning your own research project!