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The guys had to go through four rounds. The Olympiad was held online, which became an additional test for its participants from almost 50 countries.

The Russian national team won 10 medals at the 14th International Olympiad in Astronomy and Astrophysics and became the first in unofficial team competition… Moreover, Moscow schoolchildren have more than half of the medals. Three gold and one silver medals for the main team, and two gold medals for the unofficial team. And this despite the online format, an unprecedented number of participants from almost 50 countries and tricky tasks prepared by the host country – Colombia. The winners of the scientific competition told about the preparation process, the rivals and difficulties, as well as unexpected moments and the desire to connect their lives with science.

Craving for the stars from an early age

– Tell us, when did you become interested in science?

Danila Shkinderov (graduate of school number 57, first year student Physics and Technology School of Physics and Research named after Landau, gold medal):

– Love for space, like many participants in the Olympiad, I have since childhood. At the age of five I learned to read and almost immediately after that I became interested in books about space. Even then, I was drawn to thematic encyclopedias, I was fascinated by the illustrations that were there. I asked my parents to take me to the Moscow Planetarium and the Museum of Cosmonautics.

Elisey Zhdanov (student of school No. 2007 FMS, gold award):

– Astronomy started to attract me when I was about five years old. Mom recalls how I asked to show me photographs of the Sun, nebulae … Later, the interest only grew. When I entered secondary school and the opportunity to participate in the Olympiads appeared, I was able to show good results in mathematics and physics. In part, my parents also influenced the formation of my hobbies. Dad is an engineer, he develops a satellite navigation system, and my mother has always supported my endeavors.

Andrey Azhakin (school graduate Center for Excellence, a first-year student at the Physics Department of the Moscow State University named after M.V. Lomonosov, silver medal):

– And it all started for me with a circle on astronomy, which I began to attend in the eighth grade. Already in the ninth grade, he successfully performed in the final stage of the Olympiad in astronomy. This prompted me to devote more time to astronomy.

Twice as many rivals

– The Olympics were held remotely. What features are associated with this?

Andrey Azhakin: Participation in the Olympiad was very exciting. On one of the four rounds, I had difficulty loading the assignment. But you can’t get away from the online format, because if not it, then nothing. In addition, a lot depended on how much you were able to maintain your composure and not panic if something went wrong. Even some participants from countries that usually show good results won bronze, while others were left without medals at all, although I would not call these guys weak.

Elisey Zhdanov: If the Olympiad were held in person, it would be more interesting to participate – this way the atmosphere of the competition is felt more strongly. I have something to compare with: in 2019 I participated in the unofficial International Astronomy Olympiad (IAO) in Romania and brought back silver.

Almost 50 countries represented their teams in this competition. Thanks to the online format, there were twice as many participants as usual. Each country now has the opportunity to exhibit two teams (main and away). Previously, not all states could afford this budget, and the online format reduced these costs to almost zero.

Danila Shkinderov: The biggest disadvantage is that we failed to see the host country. Before that, I participated in two international Olympiads, they were held in Sri Lanka (in 2018) and Romania (in 2019). I brought silver from each.

Limited time and maximum accuracy

– What were the interesting tasks at this Olympiad?

Danila Shkinderov: This year, half of the observation tour was devoted to the physics of the Sun. The sun is not the most exuberant star, but still active. The outbreaks and emissions of matter occurring on it can affect the Earth – this is called space weather. As one of the assignments, we were asked to investigate a remarkable release of solar plasma. If such a release hits the Earth, a geomagnetic storm is possible, which is fraught with communication disruptions and breakdowns in power systems. We used a special program to obtain data on solar observations and, with their help, trace the fate of this plasma clot and estimate its parameters.

Ivan Uteshev (head coach of the national team): This year the tasks covered a wide range of topics. The Colombians tried to introduce a national and cultural aspect in them: they talked about the hills near the capital – Bogota, about natural parks and about the national astronomical observatory. We were surprised by the long but beautiful problem about cosmic strings (very ancient hypothetical objects – folds of space-time). Taking into account time zones, discussion of tasks and their translation into Russian often ended in the morning. The famous Colombian coffee would come in very handy!

Members of our team know how to solve such problems. The main difficulty is their number. You need to find the answer to each question, and then write a neat, reasonable and logical solution. The set of participants in the theoretical round consisted of 151 pages, but the guys still coped with it.

– In addition to the online format, what difficulties did you encounter during the Olympiad?

Ivan Uteshev: It was psychologically difficult for the guys. I think it’s even more difficult than if there was an opportunity to travel to Colombia. The tasks are developed every year by the committee of the host country, and each of them has its own idea of ​​how it should look. There is a general format, but it is vague, and each time we are faced with surprises regarding topics, tasks and how the Olympiad is organized in general.

Andrey Azhakin: It seems to me that the only problem of international Olympiads is the lack of time. Also, a strange story with one challenge happened in this competition. It was originally written incorrectly by Colombian authors. Deciding the way they did, it was counterintuitive, but it was the right answer. And the really correct decision was not counted. Also, the organizers this year paid special attention to the design of the work. Those guys who, for example, have poor handwriting, did not receive points.

Elisey Zhdanov: I would also add that if a teacher from another country could not understand what you wrote (even taking into account the translation), then the problem was not counted. It is important here, probably, to be able to convey the solution as correctly as possible on the fly, taking into account the online format of the competition.

Rigorous selection and no coincidences

– How did you prepare for the Olympiad?

Ivan Uteshev: The main principle of preparation is that we strive to ensure that our children can solve any problems, so that they are not afraid of the complexity and range of topics. Some countries send participants to the Olympiad either from among those who wish, or after a small national selection. And our guys participate in training camps at the federal level every month. In addition, a multi-stage system of preparation operates in Moscow – first for the All-Russian Olympiad for schoolchildren, and then for the international one. It takes a lot of effort and time, but the results are impressive.

Danila Shkinderov: The Olympiad movement is well developed in Russia. And it seems to me that one of the factors why we are showing such high results at the world level is a serious selection to get to the competition.

Andrey Azhakin: I think it is at our Olympiads that interesting and complex problems in astronomy are encountered. There you are given four to five hours to solve six problems, and not 15, as in international competitions.

Elisey Zhdanov: By the way, it was our schoolchildren and students who motivated me to achieve a high result, who bring the country prizes at similar scientific Olympiads. I just wanted to be on the level!

Scientific future

– What profession do you intend to associate your life with?

Elisey Zhdanov: I am going to enter the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology (MIPT) at the Faculty of General and Applied Physics. I plan to delve into physics, but not abandon astronomy either.

Danila Shkinderov: I plan to associate the future with physics, although astronomy is one of its sections. I entered the first year at the MIPT Landau Physics and Technology School of Physics and Research. I have decided on the type of activity, but not yet on the specialization. We will be assigned to the departments in the second year.

Andrey Azhakin: I am a first-year student at the Physics Department of Moscow State University named after M.V. Lomonosov, it will be possible to decide on the department closer to the third year. But I want to connect my life with astronomy. I also enjoy sharing my knowledge. Perhaps I will teach astronomy or prepare children for Olympiads in this direction.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is a translation. Apologies should the grammar and or sentence structure not be perfect.

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