This is part two of a three-part series of posts on the month of March 2011, in all its fantasy and fragrance. I realize it is April now. This is the result of a curious phenomenon known to mere mortals as “procrastination”.
Life is but a dream. I dedicate this paragraph in memory of Alice Zhang, who lost her life yesterday in a fatal car accident. I cannot say that I knew her well, but as a fellow Arcadia High student and Physics Team member, I would like to send her my condolences from my little lilypad on this watery Internet.
Death, passage; it really makes you appreciate the frail beauty of life when you consider that you could have been the one in front of the headlights. And all the little crumbs of happiness you wade through on your daily crusade through life: they become something deeply cherished, dearly clung to.
I will now take the opportunity to explain the title. Titles are important: the first thing seen, the first thing considered when deciding whether or not to read, whether to skim or read slowly. First of all, this post has gravity. It is important. Serious. Second, I have striven to write with charisma; gravitation. Finally, the post is concerned with the United States Physics Olympiad, or USAPhO, which may involve universal gravitation.
I left early that morning. It was a Tuesday, the Tuesday after a three-day weekend. My parents were excited. Moderately. I was ferried to school around 7:30am. I checked in with Eguez. It had been pretty cold, and to prevent the weather from influencing my test performance, I wore a lot of layers. It turned out that, in the room we were to test in, the thermostat had gone haywire and the temperature was nice and warm. I found it nice and warm; Vincent and Eguez decided it was way too hot and messed with the thermostat to try and get the temperature down. Either way, I never had any problems with the room temperature that day.
The test took four hours; each section was 90 minutes with a break in between. Part A had four questions, and Part B had two questions. I don’t quite remember my answers or the questions very clearly, actually. The room we were testing in was a lecture room adjacent to Eguez’s classroom. The desks were of the fold-out variety in an auditorium setting; very small, but that didn’t bother me much either. Well, it wasn’t quite an auditorium. The room was quite small and there were no more than about four rows, with the back rows slightly raised in elevation.
After rendezvousing with Eguez, and finding nobody else had arrived, I left to turn in my portion of the English project to Ms. Jeng. She was surprised that I wouldn’t be there, and it was very awkward. Then, still finding myself with spare time, I went to the cafeteria window and bought myself the first bacon-egg breakfast muffin sandwich I’ve ever had at Arcadia High School, for a mere $1.50. I can’t believe how cheap that is, especially compared to how much everything else is, and how little they usually give.
If I could, I would buy a sandwich for breakfast every day. Unfortunately, 9.9 days out of 10, I barely even make it to class on time to escape the tardy sweep, much less have time to buy a sandwich and finish eating it before 8am.
Vincent had arrived, and we set up our testing environments. Eguez printed us each our answer sheets. Alfred dropped in a while before first period (students had already begun arriving for Eguez’s class) to tell us that he wouldn’t be taking the USAPhO contest because he was preparing for the ACS National Chemistry Olympiad (NChO) that would be the next day. He won, by the way, with a record high score of 58 out of 60.
All set with our scratch paper and answer documents, we began the exam. I didn’t quite take notice of Vincent at all during the exam, or anything else at all around me, so I can’t comment. The kids in the adjacent classroom were noisy, but it didn’t bother me too much. People I knew in Eguez randomly came in to say hi.
My recollection of the actual exam material will be wholly from memory. The first question was about bubbles or something — initially I thought it would be some strange mechanics or optics question, but it was actually a thermodynamics question. It didn’t stump me too much, except for one of the last parts which asked me to find the work done by an isothermic process. I didn’t figure out how to do that until I had finished all the other problems and come back for it, but I did get it in the end. I’m pretty sure I got all parts of that question (there were a lot of parts; it was a long question!) right. The second was a data table I believe, something involving a rotational system. I don’t quite remember, but I just picked two points to solve for some constant. They gave like ten points, however, so I’m not certain my answer was accurate enough. It made sense, though.
Question A4 was about a planet that emitted blackbody radiation. Luckily I knew the Stefan-Boltzmann black-body equation (although I think the question even gave it to us…). It was some really cool differential equation thing. I can’t remember exactly what I did, or what it involved (something about the planet generating constant power due to radioactive decay, and something involving the temperature gradient), or what it even asked for, but I was confident in my answer so I’ll remain confident. I’m afraid I don’t remember A3 at all.
B1 was a cool alternating-current problem. Vincent had told me not to study A/C much as it wasn’t important, but I had studied it before he told me that, so luckily I knew all the formulae. Barely. I called impedance “total reactance” or something. Wonder if I’ll get dinged for terminology. Nothing else I didn’t know how to do. Of course, knowing me, careless mistakes will devour maybe 1/4 of my points. B2 was also intriguing. It was very complicated and took me a while for me to understand the problem, and its complicatedness prevents me from recalling the exact problem, but I remember checking the last answer with Vincent and we got the same thing, so I think B2 is cinched.
So those were my three paragraphs of bragging to my future self who will be reading this about how smart and awesome I was in 11th grade. Unfortunately, in every contest before this I’ve screwed up in some major or minor way (misbubbling, especially… I could have made AIME last year if I had bubbled correctly, and I could have won 1st in state in PhysicsBowl… and the list goes on), so I was really relieved to have gone through the contest with no mess-ups at all. I did my best, as my dad would say, and everything else is up to Lady Luck. There was really nothing further that could have been done to improve my chances.
That leaves me satisfied.
The March 2011 Trilogy:
thinly veiled apathy