09/02/2003 07:00:00

Caltech Student is Awarded Gold Medal at 34th International Physics Olympiad

PASADENA, Calif.—Pavel Batrachenko, an Axline scholar and incoming freshman at the California Institute of Technology, was awarded a gold medal at the 34th International Physics Olympiad in Taiwan.

Batrachenko was among participants from 68 countries who attended the Olympiad. The National Taiwan Normal University, a leading university in training and programs for high-school teachers, coordinated the Olympiad this year, with support from the Ministry of Education and National Science Council. Originating in 1967 in Warsaw, the Olympiad has become an annual event for students at the secondary- school level.

Originally from Moscow, 16-year-old Batrachenko traveled to Taipei, Taiwan, earlier this summer for the Olympiad, which lasted from August 2 to August 11. In Taipei, Batrachenko and fellow contestants were grouped in teams of five, participated in discussions with appointed coaches, and attended a science colloquium.

Individual competition took place on two of the days, with the attendees being tested on theoretical problems one day and experimental problems on another. Batrachenko was awarded first place on the theoretical exam and tied for first on the experimental exam, thereby earning a gold medal and boosting the cumulative U.S. score high enough to also earn a gold. As one of only 20 individuals to receive a gold medal, Batrachenko was also given a certificate, trophy, and prizes, which included a digital camera and camcorder. In regard to his success, Batrachencko says, "I was very surprised." The awards ceremony in which he was honored was, according to Batrachenko, the highlight of his experience in Taiwan.

Batrachenko has indeed had an eventful summer. In addition to his accomplishments at the International Physics Olympiad, Batrachenko has received an Axline scholarship from Caltech, which is awarded to select incoming freshmen. If awarded an Axline scholarship, recipients are invited to participate in Caltech's Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships (SURF) program, a 10-week program in which students propose and conduct a research project under the close guidance of a mentor. Batrachenko is currently working on a SURF project with astronomy professor S. George Djorgovski and with senior postdoctoral scholar Ashish Mahabal. At this stage in the project, Batrachenko is working to develop so-called genetic algorithms to fit the morphological parameters of galaxies. At a later stage, the algorithms will be used for automated galaxy classification in a virtual observatory.

At the conclusion of his SURF project, Batrachenko must submit a technical paper and give an oral presentation at a symposium. Following SURF, Batrachenko will start his freshman year at Caltech, where he will major in physics.

Written by Caltech Marketing and Communications