Physics Competition

Wheaton Team Awarded Silver Status in Worldwide University Physics Competition

General Content Variant

 Stephen McKay ('21), Rachel Barron ('21), and Michelle de Oliveria ('21) in the Physics and Engineering Department.

On November 9-11th, 2018, a team of three sophomore physics majors (Rachel Barron, Michelle de Oliveira, and Stephen McKay) took part in the University Physics Competition, an international competition between undergraduate students. For 2018’s competition, teams were required to solve a problem involving laser-powered space sailing, an emerging technology based on the momentum carried by intense beams of laser light. 

The team spent 48 hours researching, modeling, and composing an academic paper to describe their solution. The calculations incorporated concepts from thermodynamics, optics, and general relativity; some of them could be worked out by hand, but others required the students to model the light sail’s motion and solve corresponding differential equations using MATLAB.

The result of the team’s work was a 14-page paper describing the initial problem, the students’ model, and their consequent analysis and solution. In the final results of the competition, the Wheaton team’s paper was awarded Silver status, ranking it among the top 20% of submissions worldwide.