Interview with Yury Yufryakov on the 1st IYPT

Historical IYPT interviews — ilyamartch @ 2:52 am

>Yury Yufryakov, a Soviet team captain and a selected reporter at the 1st International Young Physicists’ Tournament (1988), unveils the organization, schedule and results of the event.

Photo credit: Evgeny Yunosov, 1988.
Yury Yufryakov is the second from the right. Alexander Fokin, his team mate, is the first from the left.

I.M. From the today’s point of view, the 1st IYPT was integrated into the Finals of the 10th Young Physicists’ Tournament, also referred as the 1st Soviet Young Physicists’ Tournament.

Y.Y. Everyone called the event “the Finals of the Young Physicists’ Tournament”. There were three Physics Fights that ended up with our team (Physico-Mathematical School 542, now known as School 1511) pulling slightly ahead of competitors. Competing teams made proposals to hold an additional Physics Fight to determine the ultimate winner, but this Physics Fight was never organized. Of course, as the leaders, we did not support this proposal :-) .

I.M. Am I right that in 1988 the Selective Rounds were for Moscow schools only, while all-Soviet and International Rounds were held as a separate event?

Y.Y. There were several Selective Physics Fights for Moscow schools. The all-Soviet Young Physicists’ Tournament was a separate event and was held in the “Olympiets” Youth Center. I must say that there was no rigorous well-developed International competition. The key principle was that “everyone were friends”.

I.M. No known source specifies the schedule of the competition. In what month it was held?

Y.Y. It is very simple to recall that :-) . In the night of March 31/April 1, 1988, boys of competing teams came to our rooms and announced that an additional round was planned. They have even supplied us with several problems. I remember one of them: to estimate the scattering radius of vase debris after a vase fell from a table. We were puzzled because everyone knew that there were a vase and three glasses in every room in “Olympiets”.

However, we were leaders and we decided not to believe them. It was a correct decision, as everything resulted to be an April-First’s joke :-) .

I.M. How long did the Tournament last?

Y.Y. Seemingly, it lasted for a week or so.

I.M. Who organized the competition and what guests of honor were there?

Y.Y. I think that Dr. Evgeny Yunosov was the chief organizer and the Organizing Committee consisted of quite many persons. Evgeny Yunosov signed diplomas and hosted all key stages and events. There were many university professors and students. If I am not mistaken, there were also members of the Academy of Sciences Zatsepin and Velikhov, cosmonaut Rukavishnikov and some Komsomol officials.

Nikolai Rukavishnikov (1932–2002) was a Soviet cosmonaut who flew three space missions of the Soyuz program: Soyuz 10, Soyuz 16, and Soyuz 33, and worked for Sergey Korolev’s design bureau. He resigned from the space program in 1987.

Evgeny Velikhov (b. 1935) is a Soviet/Russian physicist known for his works in plasma physics, controlled nuclear fusion and magnetohydrodynamics. His early work led to the discovery of the magnetorotational instability. In 1980s, he was Vice-President of the USSR Academy of Sciences.

Georgiy Zatsepin (b. 1917) is a Soviet/Russian astrophysicist known for his works in cosmic rays physics and neutrino astrophysics. In 1960s, he predicted Greisen-Zatsepin-Kuzmin limit. He was a Full Member of the USSR Academy of Sciences from 1981.

I.M. Did the organizers make any interesting presentations for participants of the event?

Y.Y. We liked experimental demonstrations. They have shown us a “mechanical cat”. If a real cat falls down, it orients in the air to land on its feet. There was a mechanical cat, seemingly wooden, that did the same.

I also liked a demonstration when Yunosov inhaled some helium and spoke in a very squeaky voice.

At certain stages, the teams were also required to make creative performances, like at KVN. Our team was not very successful in that field. However, the Fryazino team prepared an interesting video.

KVN is a Soviet/Russian humor competition for teams in giving funny answers to questions, making improvisations and demonstrating prepared sketches in front of live audience and judges. KVN is an abbreviation for the Russian «???? ??????? ? ??????????», “Club of the Merry and Inventive.” It was firstly launched in 1961.

I.M. Am I right that your team, as the winner, was awarded with the Gold Medals or with the First Position Diploma?

Y.Y. In 1988, Yunosov generally spoke that everyone was excellent and there was no intention to emphasize the superiority of this or that team. However, the School 542 was announced as having a slight superiority and was invited to make a presentation at a something like “summary session” or “closing ceremony”. We were quite pleased for that.

I.M. Everything indicates that this additional “summary session” was later recognized as the 1st International Young Physicists’ Tournament. There was no official report of the 1st IYPT in Kvant magazine, while the 2nd IYPT had a considerable coverage.

Y.Y. Yes, that seems to be true. But I am absolutely sure that in 1988 there was no international competition, there was just a “summary session”, or “closing ceremony”, of the 10th Young Physicists’ Tournament.

I.M. What international teams were present at this “summary session”? There have been references to the Polish and Czechoslovak participation at the 1st IYPT. There is also information of, all in all, 4 teams from 3 countries.

Y.Y. I cannot definitely say if the Polish and Czechoslovak teams were present, because unfortuantely I don’t remember all details.

However, I am quite sure that our team was the only Soviet team invited to the “summary session”. That is why it would be reasonable to speak of just one Soviet team at the 1st IYPT, namely of the Physico-Mathematical School 542 at the Moscow Physics Engineering Institute. I should note that our team was never called a “Soviet team”, as there was no combined National team. I was the captain of the team of School 542.

I.M. Do you remember if the international teams participated in the Physics Fights with the others, or were observers?

Y.Y. It seems to me that they were observers. But I cannot say for sure.

I.M. Am I right that the entire Tournament was held in Russian language?

Y.Y. Certainly, yes.

I.M. What was the role of your team leader in preparation?

Y.Y. Vladimir Vasilyevich Alminderov must be credited for his efforts to bring together the team of School 542. He had been the team leader of the YPT teams for many years. Andrei Stanislavovich Olchak incidentally helped him. There were also other professors and of School 542 and MEPhI itself. Vladimir Vasilyevich organized a so called PTS, Physical Theoretical Seminar, twice a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays. There, we discussed the solutions for the YPT problems. The discussions were always very inspired and involved many people (probably, 30—40 school students). Sometimes university students and professors of MEPhI came and contributed as well.

I.M. If there were university students who helped your team in preparation?

Y.Y. I must credit Denis Pospelov for his ideas on the two plots involved in our solution of the “Ninth Wave”. When he looked through my oceanology textbook, he found the distribution function that was later a key idea in the entire theoretical approach :-) . Denis was a first-year student at MEPhI at that time.

I.M. For how long your team has been working on the problems?

Y.Y. Our preparatory phase began when the problems were published in Kvant magazine, i.e. in August or September 1987. We sent our solutions to the Correspondence Round. Then there were some Selective Fights, but I don’t remember all details.

There were many discussions on various problems, for example, on the Problem No. 4 “Electric Circuit” that had been solved by Sasha Fokin. Sasha Fokin, by the way, is the person in the far left on the Evgeny Yunosov’s photograph. I met Sasha recently.

I also remember that in 1988 I attentively read a book on vacuum, to clarify the Problem No. 6 “Seller of Vacuum”.

I.M. Who were the members of your team?

Y.Y. In 1988, each team consisted of 7 persons. Our team managed to consist of 8 :-) .

Here is the list:

  • Yury Yufryakov (captain)
  • Alexander Rodionov
  • Maxim Ponomaryov
  • Anton Kuzmin
  • Yaroslav Golubkov
  • Svetlana Mesyats
  • Valeria Sirota (she was the only person of the 9th grade, everyone else was of the 10th.)
  • Elena Gubankova was the 8th member. She had such a keen interest to join the team that she convinced our team leaders to take her.

As a result, our competitors wanted to disqualify our team for violating the regulations :-) .

I remember Yunosov explaining to someone that Elena was not a team member, but an observer. Later, I saw her in the Institute for Experimental and Theoretical Physics. She was very successful theoretical physicist and, if I am not mistaken, defended PhD degree in Germany. Now rumors circulate that she resides in the US.

Unfortunately, I have found the photographs of only our team leader, Vladimir Alminderov, and 3 persons from our team, namely me, Sasha Rodionov and Anton Kuzmin. Plus, Sasha Fokin may be seen on the Yunosov’s photograph.

I.M. What computer did you use in 1988 to develop a numerical model for your research project on the “Ninth Wave”?

Y.Y. My father bought me a personal computer Mikrosha in summer 1987. I used it until graduating from MEPhI in 1994. Today, it is difficult to imagine a machine equipped with 32 Kb RAM, and requiring a television receiver as a display and a tape recorder as a data storage device. Programs had to be uploaded from the tape, and saved to the tape as well. There was neither hard drive nor floppy drive. I uploaded a BASIC compiler from the tape and used it for my calculations.

Mikrosha was a Soviet 8-bit home computer produced from 1987. It used a KR580VM80A CPU, a Soviet 8080 clone, running at 1.77 Mhz. Its main circuit board was based on the Soviet Radio-86RK platform. Text could be displayed using 64 columns X 25 rows of characters. It was possible to imitate a 128 X 50 monochromatic graphics mode with pseudographical elements from the character set. A typical data tranfer rate for a cassette tape recorder was 1200 bit/s. That corresponds to about 800 Kb per a common 90 min audio cassette. Mikrosha costed 500 Soviet roubles.

I.M. How you have presented your numerical results for the “Ninth Wave”?

Y.Y. I need some efforts to recall the details :-) . We have found a spectral density of oceanic waves in an oceanology textbook. Then, we took several sinusoids with arbitrary phases and summed them up. Surprisingly, at the very first attempt, the wave pattern resulted to be exactly as we needed it.

I have reproduced the computed wave pattern on a 2-meter-wide paper poster. The poster was made on plotting paper, to make drawing easier. I’ll try to find this poster, because it might have survived after I moved to a new apartment and renovated the interior twice.

I.M. Did your team prepare similar paper posters with key formulas and plots? Were the posters of this type common at the Tournament?

Y.Y. It was considered good manner to prepare a poster. Our team had such posters for almost every problem.

I.M. According to your impressions, most reports at the YPT were theoretical or there were many teams performing good experiments?

Y.Y. In average, there was a half of theory and a half of experimental.

I.M. Do you remember any interesting research projects presented by other teams?

Y.Y. Unfortunately, I cannot say that I remember many details.

I.M. What reports besides the “Ninth Wave” your team and you have presented? Perhaps, you do remember any interesting details of these presentations?

Y.Y. I remember that I have presented the Problem No. 4 “Electric Circuit” at some demonstration Physics Fight in “Olympiets” (the solution was developed by Sasha Fokin.)

It seems that we have reported the Problem No. 7 “Sunset” (the solution by Sveta Mesyats.)

Also I remember the Problem No. 8 “Color Television” at one of the Fights. The reporter was Anton Kuzmin, who had an unusual idea to add the fourth luminophore, of white color, to improve contrast.

I.M. Would you agree if I assume that in 1988 you did not expect that an additional Physics Fight with international teams would become a start point for such a large and serious competition, as IYPT is now?

Y.Y. Of course, I did not expect that. I have attended the Tournament of 1989, even then the international teams looked to me somewhat exotic. I remember German and Dutch teams in 1989. Well, I also remember that we had a keen interest to invite the Dutch team to play football, as a revenge for the Euro 88 :-) .

A Soviet and a Dutch team played in the Finals of the 1988 UEFA European Football Championship on June 25, 1988. The game ended with the Netherlands winning 2-0.

I.M. Would you say that the Tournament has given you good impressions and any skills necessary in life?

Y.Y. Certainly, yes. The most useful skills were in making presentations and in holding discussion. When I was a third-year student at the Moscow Engineering Physics Institute, we had a special subject in making presentations. At Young Physicists’ Tournaments, these skills were developed at 9th or 10th class of Soviet school. It was very useful in further life.

I.M. Thank you for your detailed and invaluably informative memories. I am sure that the IYPT community is very interested in the experience and impressions of such a pioneer IYPT participant as you are.

Y.Y. Thank you.

The Ninth Wave

Reproduced with author’s permission; firstly released in 1998

This story happened when I was rather young (in 1987—88 — I was 16 years old). At that time I was a member of the team of school #542 participating in the Young Physicists Tournament organized by Moscow State University, Physics Faculty. It was a very interesting competition: there was some list of the problems to be solved and several teams (from the best schools of the USSR). We had a half a year to prepare our presentations about these problems. That’s the background.

One of the problem was the problem of the «Ninth Wave». According to the sailor’s legends the Ninth Wave is the biggest one and therefore might destroy the ship. (Actually Russian sailors think that the ninth wave is the most dangerous, Dutch think that this is the fifth wave, and so and so. Hence, the Ninth Wave is a purely psychological phenomenon.)

We have developed a stochastic approach. My father bought Oceanology textbook with very useful information including the distribution of ocean waves by height. Denis Pospelov (he graduated from our school in 1987 and was a first year student at that time — he is extremely gifted person!) invented the following trick. Suppose we have X-Y axis. Using wave height distribution we can plot the curve Y(X) (Curve 1) where X is the average distance between two waves that is Y times higher than average wave amplitude. We can also plot the curve Y(X) (Curve 2) where X is the average distance between any given wave and the wave that is Y times higher than this given wave. It appears that Curve 1 and Curve 2 have only one intersection — of course, near X=9.

This intersection became the cornerstone for our speculations. Look, if X<9, than (from the viewpoint of sailor in the ship) next X waves may be large with respect to the current wave but are not large with respect to average wave amplitude. On the contrary, if X>9 than waves are larger than average but are not large with respect to their neighbours. Finally, for X about 9 the waves are both large with respect to their neighbours and with respect to average amplitude. Therefore (according to our speculations) the Ninth Wave seems the biggest.

I’ve made the presentation about the ’Ninth Wave’ several times including presentation at the closing ceremony of the Young Physicists Tournament. I (and my team) have got a lot of points. It was a really impressive presentation — it included computer simulation of ocean surface (1-dimension) and other stuff.

After my examination (in order to enter the Moscow Engineering Physics Institute — the MEPhI) I went to Black Sea to have a rest before the first year at college. Of course, I wanted to check my theory by experiment. I made a 3-meter yardstick (with scale) and fixed it on the sea floor not far from the coast. I sat on the boat (frankly speaking, it was not a boat — but it doesn’t matter) and wrote the wave amplitudes as the waves came — one after another. All my records I entered into database files in my home computer and I plotted the wave amplitude series.

What was the conclusion? The conclusion was that my theory about Ninth Wave was wrong from the very beginning!!! I discovered for myself (I guess, it is well-known for experts) that waves in the ocean propagate in the groups (soliton waves). But my theory was based on the assumption that two neighbour waves independent from each other!!! Illustrations for my presentations contained no any wave group! All waves were represented as a superposition of linear waves and there was no any nonlinear wave interaction.

So, I’ve got a lot of points presenting completely wrong theory! Some persons said me that I am wrong in my theory — but I insisted that I’m right and I won! It means that if the scientific society believes that some theory is right — it doesn’t mean that theory is indeed valid.

Yury Yufryakov was born in 1971 in Moscow. As a student at the Physico-Mathematical School 542 in 1987—1988, he took part at the 9th and 10th Young Physicists’ Tournaments and made talks in the Finals of these competitions.

He graduated from Moscow Engineering Physics Institute in 1994 with a degree in theoretical nuclear physics. His graduate project was performed at the Institute for Theoretical and Experimental Physics. In 1993—1996 he co-authored several articles in hadron physics.

In 1998, Yury Yufryakov released English-language notes on the Young Physicists’ Tournament of 1988. By late 2007, he was not aware that a “closing ceremony” of YPT, in which he made a successful talk on the “Ninth Wave” phenomenon, was later commonly recognized as the 1st International Young Physicists’ Tournament.

Yury Yufryakov has been working in banking sector since 1996 and now works at the Bank of Moscow. He is the author of ‘Securities Back-Office at Commercial Bank or Investment Company’, published in Russian by Alpina Business Books.

This interview was originally published on January 10, 2008 as a POISK Centre news release.

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