Over 200 students and teachers are registered to participate in the 2006 Physics Olympiad, sponsored by the University of Michigan Department of Physics and FOCUS. Much of the planning and actual running of the contest is handled by the faculty and manpower is provided by both graduate and undergraduate students who want to share their own love of science.


Airplanes will be whizzing, and laser beams will be bouncing through mazes at the fifth annual Physics Olympiad. One of the most photogenic events will include high school students building a water-balloon catcher and a catapult capable of hurling standard-size water balloons a distance of 50 feet. During the event, the operation of the catapult is triggered by a student. A teacher will operate the water-balloon catcher to cushion and receive the balloons so as to prevent them from rupturing.


Other events include:


Physics Bowl

All Olympiad Teams are automatically registered for this event. A series of 15-20 'simple' physics demonstrations will be described by a UM Faculty member. A question about each demonstration will be posed for the teams to consider. Each team will then come to a consensus answer. Answers for each question will be provided by watching the demonstration happen.


Laser Maze

A laser beam is to be guided through an optical maze onto a bull's eye target. Three mirrors must be aligned such that the laser beam bounces off all mirrors and passes through circular apertures to be placed in specified areas along the beam path. The laser is turned off during most of the alignment procedure. 


Think or Sink

Teams of two to three students construct a barge from the materials provided before the contest. Points toward the final score are awarded for a quiz and for the maximal amount of weight the barge can carry before it sinks. Both the building and the loading of the boat have to be performed within a specified time limit determined by the judges.


Thermo Gauge

Each team is given a kit consisting of various electronics parts to design a home-built thermometer. During the competition the students will conduct several measurements that will allow them to calibrate their thermometer. The calibrated thermometers are then used to determine the temperatures of various unknown liquids.


Delta Dart

Teams of two to three students construct two simple rubber-powered model airplanes from inexpensive commercial kits. Points toward the final score are awarded for a quiz and for flight performance.



You will design and build your own small electromagnetic launcher. The launcher will be a solenoid built from magnet wire windings wrapped on a support. You must choose the length and diameter of the solenoid, the characteristics of the magnet wire used, and the number of wire turns. The solenoid will be charged by a 1-Farad capacitor which discharges on the order of 10’s of milliseconds depending on the resistance of your launcher. If all goes well your design should be able to launch a small magnetizable object many meters!



  • The Physics Olympiad will be on May 6, 2006 from 10:00 AM—4:30 PM on the University of Michigan’s central campus.
  • Events will take place in various locations. The Welcoming Ceremony will take place in 340 West Hall. Please see the Olympiad event schedule for more details.

MAPS: http://phys-advlab.physics.lsa.umich.edu/aamap.htm


SPONSORS: The University of Michigan Physics Department, FOCUS

TO REGISTER: This is a free event. Spectators are welcome.

WEB LINK: For more information about the Olympiad, a schedule of events, and last year’s photographs, visit http://phys-advlab.physics.lsa.umich.edu/.

Contact: Carol Rabuck

Phone: (734) 763-2588

E-mail: crabuck@umich.edu

Contact: Ramon Torres-Isea
Phone: (734) 764-3443 

E-mail: rtorres@umich.edu