Wednesday, 19 September 2018

What does it take to compete in the Olympics of maths and science?

What does it take to compete in the Olympics of maths and science?
18 Jun

For Rose, carrying out investigations in the field of earth science, study continued well up until lights out.

“It was full-on. We were learning a whole first year university course in a fortnight basically,” she said.

“We’d have older mentors from previous years there with us and we’d all stay up asking them to explain difficult concepts. But it was so great to be around other people who were that passionate.”

Then, following another round of exams, both practical and theoretical, the pair got the news neither of them expected- they had made the 17-strong national team and would face off against 2000 of the best young scientific minds in the world.

“The actual competition will be more exams, hours and hours of them, and practical stuff too,” Luke said.


He is due to return from the Biology Olympiads in Iran just days before his own Year 12 mid-year assessments, while Rose will compete in Thailand in August. She’s the first Canberra student to make the earth science field after the discipline joined the world stage three years ago.

Last year, half of the Australian team were girls, but this time around that number dropped back to just six out of a total of 27 competitors, including 10 taking part in the maths and coding Olympiads.

Both Rose and Luke admitted they felt outnumbered as Canberrans too. Since 1999, the territory’s performance in the international competition has slumped, with fewer students making the final cut.

Last year Claire Yung, also of Narrabundah College, became the first girl in 16 years to represent the ACT at the International Science Olympiads, taking home a bronze medal in physics.

On Monday, chief scientist Dr Alan Finkel said the program helped unlock Australia’s “next generation of brilliant minds”, by not only developing students’ talents but inspiring their peers back home.

He told the Olympians, the youngest of whom is just 14 years old, to think of their team blazers “as your superhero cape because in it you will do astonishing things”.

“At the end of the day, politicians can only make decisions. Science and mathematics make new potential.”

Think you’re up to the challenge? Here’s some practice questions to test your science prowess:

Question 1: Earth’s first substantial atmosphere was formed by volcanic ‘out gassing’. Name a gas NOT commonly produced by volcanoes.

a) Oxygen

b) Water vapour

c) Sulfur dioxide

d) Carbon dioxide

Question 2: How many moles of oxygen are present in 100g of oxygen gas?

a) 1.56 mol

b) 3.12 mol

c) 6.25 mol

d) 12.5 mol

Question 3: A constant force is applied to move a trolley with a number of 5g masses along a track to find the relationship between acceleration and mass. A motion sensor is used to find velocity and time. What is the independent variable?

a) Time

b) Mass

c) Force

d) Acceleration

Question 4: The cell membrane of a red blood cell will allow water, oxygen, carbon dioxide and glucose to pass through. Because other substances are blocked from entering, this membrane is called what?

a) Perforated

b) Semi-permeable

c) Non-conductive

d) Permeable

e) Non-selective

Question 5: A ball has a diameter of 29 cm and a mass of 1.3kg. What is the weight of the ball? The local acceleration due to gravity is 9.8ms⁻¹.

a) 1.3kg

b) 13 N

c) 0.13 N

c) 1.3 x 10⁻²m³

Check your answers at

Australian Science Innovations runs Australia’s science Olympiads program and Australian Mathematics Trust runs the maths and informatics Olympiad programs, with support through the federal government’s national innovation and science agenda.

Sherryn Groch

Sherryn Groch is a reporter for The Canberra Times, with a special interest in education and social affairs

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