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The UK 2016 IOAA team - (L-R) Robin Hughes, Sandor Kruk, Chris Underhill, Alan Sun, Thomas Read, Michael Smith, Mavis Chan, and Charles Barclay.

Merton student leads UK team to success at Astronomy & Astrophysics Olympiad

January 2017

Third-year postgraduate astrophysics student Sandor Kruk was joint leader and coach of the first full team of UK school students to compete in the 2016 International Olympiad on Astronomy and Astrophysics (IOAA) held in Bhubaneswar, India, in December. The team achieved great success, with each of its members being awarded a prize: one gold, one silver and one bronze medal, and two honourable mentions. The UK was ranked sixth in the medal tally, a significant improvement on last year's 'trial run' in which a team of three from the UK were ranked tenth, winning two silver medals.

The winner of the gold medal was Thomas Read, a student at The Perse School in Cambridge; he was ranked tenth overall out of 240 participants. The other members of the UK team were silver medallist Michael Smith, who studies at Winchester College; Alan Sun, winner of the bronze; Chris Underhill, a student at Pate's Grammar School in Cheltenham; and Mavis Chan. Sandor's fellow team leader and coach was Charles Barclay, the Director of the Blackett Observatory at Marlborough College.

The team was selected from participants in the British Astronomy and Astrophysics Olympiad (BAAO), which is organised through the outreach office in the Oxford Physics Department. The team held training camps in the University's Denys Wilkinson Building.

Commenting on the team's success, Sandor, who is currently working within the Galaxy Zoo project studying galaxy evolution, said:

"It’s been a fantastic achievement, winning a Gold Medal at the IOAA. This is particularly tough because we are competing against the best students in the world in this field, and there are only 14 Gold Medals awarded. The excellent result came after a lot of hard work put in by the students and coaches in intense training camps in Oxford, Marlborough and Cambridge.

"In India, we were pleasantly surprised by the ingenuity of the academic team, who set interesting problems on novel astronomy topics such as Gravitational Waves and Exoplanets.

"The BAAO is now running for a second year and receiving increasing interest from bright students keen on the subject. We hope that we will manage to find support for this endeavour, in order to run the Olympiad in future years. The next International Olympiad will be held in Phuket, Thailand, in November 2017."

Photo: courtesy Sandor Kruk