Sarah Wu ’16 named to national physics team

Sarah Wu was “super surprised” to be invited to join the national team, thinking physics wasn’t her strength. But her years of math competition probably help, she knows.

Sarah Wu ’16 of Chapel Hill is one of 20 high school students named to the 2016 United States Physics Team. Wu will attend a 10-day training camp in College Park, Maryland, in late May and early June. At the camp, five team members will be chosen to represent the United States at the International Physics Olympiad in Switzerland in July. The training camp is sponsored by the American Association of Physics Teachers and the American Institute of Physics.

“Sarah is an amazing student and this is a great honor for her,” says Jonathan Bennett, her physics instructor this year.

Wu qualified for the team through a series of elimination exams beginning in January. “I was super surprised to be invited,” she says. “I think math is my strongest subject, and I only started taking physics last year.” She’s been traveling to math competitions since middle school, however, which has probably helped. “There’s definite parallels between math and physics.”

At the training camp, she’ll be taking classes, hearing from guest speakers, and visiting labs to see physics theories in practice. She’s loved that aspect of Bennett’s classes, that he offers demonstrations after students learn a formula or theory. In one optics lesson, they learned that Pyrex glass and baby oil have the same index of refraction. Bennett placed a Pyrex beaker inside a glass, then poured baby oil around the outside of it.

“I saw an object disappear right in front of me; it blew me away,” Wu says.

She’d be thrilled to be chosen as one of five to travel to Switzerland. Then, in the fall, she’s heading to MIT, where she always figured she would major in applied math. “Being invited to join the U.S. team has changed my thinking,” she says. “I never thought I was that good at physics.”

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