Interview with Eugene Zelenko on the 2nd IYPT (1989)

Historical IYPT interviews — ilyamartch @ 2:54 am

>Eugene Zelenko (Ja?hen Zialonka), Belarusian participant of the selective Soviet rounds at the 2nd International Young Physicists’ Tournament (1989), shares his memories, impressions and photographs of the event.

I.M. There were some uncertainties about the problems proposed at the final rounds of the Soviet and International YPTs, on March 24-April 2, 1989. Did these problems differ from the problems of the Correspondence Round?

E.Z. Yes, that’s right. In 1988-1989, Kvant magazine has published only the problems for the Correspondence Round, not of the following stages. The list of problems published in the Slovak language seems to be correct. I clearly remember the tasks of “Rainbow”, “Sound as a Wave”, and “Mosquito”; also of “Karlsson”, “Information”, “Fence” and “Metro”.

I.M. Where did you receive the final version of the problems, in Minsk or already in Moscow?

E.Z. As far as I remember, we barely had any time for preparation. Most likely, our team was invited in the very last moment, because there were no other Belarusian applicants.

I.M. What reports were the most interesting for you at the competition?

E.Z. I remember that one of the teams made a presentation about Karlsson. The question was: “With what rate should Karlsson eat jam not to get thinner during the flight?” They had a series of posters (the first poster with the Karlsson himself) that had sequentially removed all Karlsson’s masks, from the physical point of view. All in all, there were about 10 posters. They have calculated the power of engine, power of refrigeration systems, etc. Finally, on the last poster, they have shown a drawing of Gromozeka. I wouldn’t refuse to watch this presentation once again :-) .

Karlsson, a flying Swedish boy equipped with propeller, is the main character of Astrid Lindgren’s novels, extremely popular in Soviet Union.

Professor Gromozeka, who disputably integrates some artificial mechanisms in his body, is a character of Kir Bulychyov’s novels. According to the description, Gromozeka “is twice as high as a human being, has ten hands, eight eyes, a carapace on his chest and three naïve kind hearts”.

We also had a handwritten YPT-related newspaper that has much joked around the problem on mosquito: “At what maximum altitude can a mosquito fly?”

The key joke was: “How much energy would an experimenter need to explain to a mosquito that it has to fly at a maximum altitude, as long as possible, in March?”

I.M. What was in that newspaper? Who contributed to it?

E.Z. The newspaper was hanging in the halls, near the dining room. It was regularly updated and included commentaries and jokes about current events, such as Physics Fights. The contributors were the participants themselves, maybe from one or several teams. Once we have found a cockroach in our pilaf (rice and meat meal). I remember the subsequent joke in this newspaper: “Q. How we can explain that a cockroach was found in pilaf? A. It’s very simple! If we integrate all cockroaches, we obtain a ram!”

I.M. Quite likely, teams from Eastern Europe spoke Russian. What language did the teams from Netherlands and West Germany speak? What was the official language of the Tournament?

E.Z. Most teams spoke Russian, and the rest of the participating teams were accompanied by interpreters. But when the Polish team reported their solution to the problem on sound and demonstrated their equipment (a tube with a piston and some sand), they spoke Polish, and in a very emotional way :-) .

The problem about sound was the problem No. 1. “Invent yourself”: “Develop and construct a setup for illustrative demonstration of the wave properties of sound propagation in air.”

I.M. Did anyone try to object or interrupt when they spoke Polish :-) . ?

E.Z. It seems, no :-) .

I.M. How was selected the Belarusian team?

E.Z. It is difficult to say why our team was invited. I don’t think that the Minsk school No. 16 was the best physics school in Belarus, but it was quite strong however. Our delegation included our team leader Efim Aaronovich Katsman (Jafim Aronavi? Kacman), Natalya Onishchuk (Natalla Aniš?uk, her name is mentioned in the Kvant article), and me. Everything happened rather unexpectedly and rapidly.

Efim Aaronovich was a very good and non-traditional professor. I don’t know if he had any official positions or degrees, but he had could teach us and motivate us in a very unusual way.

When we arrived to Moscow, we were combined with a team from Dushanbe. They were three boys, the winners of the Tajikistan Republican Olympiad in physics. They have given us presents, tubeteika caps (I still have one). Also, we have become good friends with the team of MEPhI.

I.M. I have cross-checked all the YPT-related articles in Kvant magazine and it seems that your team was the first Belarusian team team to take part in a YPT. Is that true?

E.Z. Most likely, we were the first Belarusian team at a YPT, but I cannot be absolutely sure. In the Yunosov’s article in Kvant, we were mentioned as “debutants”. It was a common name for teams that were joining the competition for the first time.

I.M. Did you have evening “brainstorms” to improve your reports?

E.Z. Sure! In evenings, we worked together, all of our team.

I.M. Who signed diplomas on behalf of the Jury and the Organizing Committee?

E.Z. Our diplomas were signed by Yunosov only.

I.M. Reportedly, both Soviet and International Rounds of 1989 took place at the Komsomol’s “Olympiyets” Youth Center. But where did all the participants live?

E.Z. Just there, at “Olympiyets”. It is was like a very big hotel and served as a Komsomol’s country residence, outside Moscow. Except that, we had an excursion to Moscow State University and also had one or two free days to walk around Moscow, just before the departure.

I.M. In 1989, you studied the motion of an ink droplet as it falls into water. Coincidently, it was a topic of a recent IYPT problem in 2007. What aspects you have decided to study in 1989? What are the differences between your approach and the approaches that today’s students follow?

E.Z. I made a presentation at a conference for secondary school students, held at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology in April 1989. I represented there the Section of Physics of the Belarusian Republican Young Technician’s Station. The Section was organized by young researchers of the Institute for Mass and Heat Transfer of the Belarusian Academy of Sciences.

We have used an Institute’s high-speed camera to film how a drop of ink or iodine comes into water. The camera filmed with 2000 frames per second and registered, for example, nice cumulative jets.

But a direct observation of how ink moved inside water was the most interesting. In some way, it resembled the Lem’s description of “Solaris”. This motion is described by complicated differential equations and nobody knows how these equations may be solved. One boy gave a nickname to all of that, “ink in a glass science”, which is hardly translatable into English as “ink” (?arnila) is a Belarusian nickname for cheap sorts of wine :-) .

Thank you very much for sending me the 2007 presentation. Yes, it is it, the “branched tree” structure! :-) . I have approached the problem at a qualitative level, and if today’s secondary school students know divergence, curl and fractal geometry, we can be proud for them.

I.M. What problems did your team report at the YPT?

E.Z. I clearly remember our presentation on the wave nature of sound, but I am not sure about other reports. Quite likely, we opposed or reviewed the problem on rainbow.

I.M. Did most teams made presentations with paper posters, or they just spoke by the blackboard?

E.Z. I think it depended on the complexity of a solution, but there were many paper posters.

I.M. What were your impressions of the Tournament? What was the atmosphere at the event?

E.Z. The relations between teams were very friendly, and the atmosphere was “motivated” or “purposeful”, as I may say.

I.M. Thank you very much for your answers. It is extremely interesting to find out the details of an early International Young Physicists’ Tournament. Not much is known about these Tournaments and such details are invaluable.

E.Z. Thank you for the links and for the photographs. It was very pleasant to feel again the atmosphere of those days. It would be interesting to find the photographs in a better quality, because possibly some of our team are pictured on them :-) . I am also very pleased that my scans of the badge and diploma of 1989 occurred to be useful.

Young Physicists’ Tournament (YPT) is a competition among teams of secondary school students in their ability to solve complicated scientific problems, to present solutions to these problems in a convincing form and to defend them in scientific discussions, called Physics Fights (PF).

The Young Physicists’ Tournament originated in 1979 and became international in 1988, when Eastern European teams joined the event.

In 1989, the 2nd IYPT was combined with the Finals of the 2nd Soviet YPT and 11th Moscow YPT and was held on March 24-April 2 in the Komsomol’s “Olympiyets” Youth Center. The event was supported by Komsomol, the governmental youth organization, and has attracted 38 teams from all of Soviet Union and abroad.

There were 8 teams at the International Rounds, of Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Netherlands, Poland, West Germany and two teams of Soviet Union.

Dr. Evgeny Yunosov, the organizer of the event, has reported that “the Tournament was highly rated by our foreign colleagues”. The International Organizing Committee of the IYPT was organized the same year with Dr. Georgiy Zatsepin elected as the President.

This interview was originally published on November 30, 2007 as a POISK Centre news release. Original discussion is available at the Belarusian Wikipedia talk pages.

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