Interview with Rumen Bachev and Stefan Piperov on 1st and 2nd IYPTs

Rumen Bachev and Stefan Piperov, early Bulgarian participants at 1st IYPT (1988) and 2nd IYPT (1989), unveil details and shed much light on the events. Remaining still unclear is the status of the 1st IYPT, and if a formal international ranking has been announced in early April 1988.

Rumen Bachev (b. 1971 in Sofia, Bulgaria) graduated in 1994 from Sofia University and earned his PhD from the Institute of Astronomy in Sofia in 2003. He works currently at the University of Alabama and at the Institute of Astronomy, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences.

Stefan Piperov (b. ca. 1971) graduated in 1995 from Sofia University and got a PhD in High Energy Physics from Humboldt University, Germany. He now works between Fermilab, CERN, and the Institute for Nuclear Research and Nuclear Energy, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences.

Download: Young Physicists’ Tournament: regulations and problems for 10th Moscow, the all-Soviet and the International Young Physicists’ Tournaments (Moscow, 1988), a 18-page booklet in Russian photocopied from sheets printed with mechanical typewriter, provided by Soviet organizing committee in 1988, and preserved by Rumen Bachev (pdf.)

I. M. A recently traced paper in Gift. Tal. Int’l gives your names as a Bulgarian participants in 1989, winning gold at the competition.

R. B. Indeed, I participated in the Young Physicists Tournament some 20 years ago! Actually I was a part of the Bulgarian team twice – in 1988 and 1989 (can’t be sure for the months). The second time we indeed won a gold medal, together with another foreign team (forgot which one). So, it will be a pleasure to answer your questions, as long as I can remember the details.

S. P.Yes, I was one of the participants in the Bulgarian team of IYPT both in 1988 and 1989 (and was probably even the captain of the team :)

I. M. It is fantastic that you were participants in 1988, because while some details are known for 1989, the 1988 still looks very obscure. Did you possibly preserve problems, notes, diplomas or photographs from the 1988 and 1989 events?

R. B. Yes, I believe I did. Let see when I return back home. Photographs I keep for sure.

S. P. Unfortunately I do not have any photos of the events, but my classmates and friends from the team surely keep some still. I’ll ask them.

I. M. Could you suggest if you remember on your diplomas or elsewhere the IYPT logo with horses and knights? I am checking when the logo was re-drawn into the version that it commonly used today.

R. B. I remember the logo and think it was present since the beginning (1988). But will double check.

I. M. Were you preparing any visual aids for your reports, like paper posters or transparencies, in 1988 and 1989?

R. B. I guess there were posters (not transparencies) but can’t be positive.

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

R. B.There were both but don’t remember many details.


S. P. In 1988 there was no formal competition in Bulgaria. It was only our team formed – for a very first time – in our “very special” high school, that participated straight into the finals in Moscow. There, we were not part of the “official” ranking, since we did not participate in the earlier – National – rounds. Nevertheless we played against the other team as equals. Just were rakned separately. If memory serves me right, we were the winners of the “international” part of the competition. There was an official winner of the “regular” competition, which was from a Moscow school, I believe, but I do not remember the name.

I. M. Can you suggest if you know people who represented Bulgaria in 1988, the year before you? (Unlike 1989, even winners for 1988 are uncertain.)

R. B. Ok, let see. Some of the people participating both years were:

  • Me – Rumen Bachev
  • Stefan Piperov
  • Nikolay Nikolov

Other people attending once or twice (can’t be sure):

  • Georgy Ognianov
  • Chavdar Chavdarov
  • Ivaylo …

.. perhaps somebody else. I can’t be sure, though, which year the other guys attended the Tournament. Two other people were with us – our physics teacher Liudmil Vasilev and another “Komsomol” guy – Jan Videnov, who later became a prime minister of Bulgaria for some time.

In 1988, I believe, we – perhaps as foreign guests – were not officially graded, so an USSR team must had been be the winner.

I. M. The experience of your team is extremely interesting. When you first heard of the IYPT, and how did your team organize preparation?

R. B. Can’t say for sure. In the school perhaps. We were studying in a high-level physics and math-oriented high school, so the first year they just picked up some people from our physics class. During the second year there was, however, a competition between several schools. We won and attended again.

I. M. Were you speaking Russian or English at the competition?

R. B. Russian. Some of the other foreign teams (Hungary, Austria, I believe) had interpreters.

I. M. What problem did your team report at the Finals, if you have participated at any?

R. B. I can’t be sure. When I check what I preserved I might have some more clear ideas about the problems.

I. M. There is a brochure published in 1996 which says (page 9) that in 1988 the gold winner was “USSR”, the silver winner was “USSR-Latvia”, while Bulgaria and Czechoslovakia won bronze.

R. B. This for sure is not correct, as long as our team is concerned. We did not participate in the final grading and won no medals.

I. M. This source also says that in 1988 there were 4 teams from 3 countries.

R. B. As I recall there indeed were only a few international teams (probably 2) and many other USSR teams.

I. M. I found and contacted two years ago with Yury Yufryakov, who represented a team from Moscow School 542 and (plausibly) was a winner among Soviet teams in 1988. By that time I was still unaware of the Czech paper and only had some late hearsay accounts. Yury is strongly convinsed that there was no international competition at all, and meetings with non-Soviet teams were like “friendly sessions”. Despite that, there were some accounts which claimed that Yury’s team was “a gold winner in 1988″, which Yury strongly disagrees with.

R. B. I fully agree with him.

I. M. I need to explain why I dig that much into details of 1988. There were many articles published in late 1990s where information on 1988-1992 appeared questionable and unreliable. For example, there are sources claiming that the winners in 1988 were Poland and Soviet Union.

R. B. Again, that is not correct. There might have been competition between the Soviet teams, but no international team participated in the grading.

I. M. Andrzej Nadolny (Polish teamleader in 1989) convinced me that there was no Polish team at all in 1988.

R. B. I would also say so, but can’t be positive.

I. M. Can you suggest if Bulgaria and Czechoslovakia were indeed the only teams outside USSR in 1988? (We really need to double check this information.)

R. B. Quite possible. I remember we were not the only foreign team at that time, but there were very few, perhaps two. Can’t be positive about Czechs though.

I. M. Can you confirm that the problems published in Kvant in August 1987 were in fact what you were discussing at the event?

S. P. Going through the excellent compilation of links that you’ve sent, I can say that I fully recognize the set of Problems for 1988. I remember very well our team building the “vechpriemnik” in two versions: one that used solar power and a tiny piezzo-speaker driven by an ingenuitive FM-radio, and another powered by a hand-crank generator. Also – the rest of the problems I recall pretty well. I myself worked extensively on the 4-color TV (problem #8), and Nikolay Nikolov made several excellent early-morning photos of the Sun for the Sunset Problem (#7).

I. M. Do you know if any articles on Bulgarian participation were published in Bulgarian journals?

R. B. Not that I know of.

I. M. Can you suggest that in 1988 and/or in 1989 your team played together with more-than-few Soviet teams throughout all selective stages? For 1989, the paper in Kvant suggests that possibly there was a pre-selection among Soviet teams before they could join “international” rounds and play with your team. For 1988, it is not very clear.

R. B. Can’t be positive, but we probably participated throughout the selective stages. However a pre-selection among the Soviet teams might have existed.

I. M. I contacted in September 2009 with Igor Nosov, who represented a team from Ashgabat. He recalls playing and discussing incandenscent bulbs with a Bulgarian team just at the selective fights.

R. B. This I remember for sure, we had to compete with someone on this problem.

I. M. Would it be possible to kindly ask you to have a look on the interview with Yury Yufryakov to detect mistakes or inaccuracies? Do you possibly remember opposing or reviewing his computer-aided report on the Ninth Wave?

R. B. He is very specific and shares many details that I can’t recall much about. No, I have no memories on the 9-th wave problem competition even if I believe was the one to work mostly on this problem.

S. P. Going through the photos on your page, I can certainly recognize this person. He was one of the organizers, wasn’t he? Unfortunately I cannot recall his name.

I. M. Yes, his name is Evgeny Yunosov and he was the key organizer of the event, often credited as also the author of the IYPT concept.


S. P. In 1989, there was a National round in Bulgaria, which our team – only slightly modified from the year before – won, and then went to the Finals in Moscow, where we won the gold.

I. M. Concerning the 1989, there is a detailed paper on 1989, confirming that you won gold together with the German team.

R. B. It is quite possible the second team was the german one.

I. M. The problems for 1989 were published in August 1988, and even translated into English for (at least) the Dutch team, as Hans Jordens informed me. However, there is now some evidence that the problems were changed in the very last moment, with 9 tasks fully replaced. Do you recollect the problems and could you comment on this point?

R. B. I must have at home the original problems that we had to prepare in advance. If I recall correctly at some point we were told that we shouldn’t prepare all the problems but only a part of them. In any case not all the problems from the journal look familiar to me, but all of those I remember are there. Except for one, perhaps, about the highest altitude a mosquito can fly.

S. P. The problems from 1989 also [as for 1988] seem very familiar – from beginning to end.
I remember working on the “Figuryj Hladni (#5), Soap bubble (#6), Flash (#13) and Triboluminscence (#14), and also on “Information” (#16). And, to answer you concern, I can say that the version in Kvnat is what
we prepared for. I do not see any discrepancies.

S. P. I will gladly answer your further questions, if you have any, since the Tournament still holds a special place in my heart, so many years later!

I. M. Many thanks for your very detailed and helpful answers! Your corrections and commentaries are among very few first-hand sources on 1988 that we have. The brochure scanned by Rumen is great (there are detailed regulations, description etc., all we have never saw before)!

S. P. I want to include [in the correspondence] our then teacher and later professor in the University, who organized our participation in the Tournament – Prof. Ljudmil Vassilev from Sofia University. I’m CC’ing him, so that you can have his email for further questions. By the way, when I saw him lately, he was preparing a young new team from Bulgaria for this year’s edition of the ITYP (T.Yu.F.), so perhaps he
can bring in some fresh news ;)

Artifacts from Rumen Bachev’s private archive

The interview with Rumen Bachev was primarily taken on March 19-20, 2010. The interview with Stefan Piperov was primarily taken on April 10-12, 2010. Updates, fact checking, and document scanning by Rumen Bachev, were completed between October 6 and October 25, 2010.

Sergei Katsev speaks on 5th IYPT, 4th all-Soviet YPT, and shares original photos and printed documents

Sergei Katsev, now a researcher at the University of Minessota-Duluth, was a team member in gold co-winning Belarusian team at the 5th IYPT (1992) and an early Belarusian participant at the 4th all-Soviet YPT (1991). He corroborates  important information on the 5th IYPT, and unveils untraceable earlier documents and details, including the Russian problem set for 1992.

Sergei Katsev (b. 1975) graduated in 1998 from Belarusian State University and earned his PhD in 2002 from the University of Ottawa. He is now assistant professor at Large Lakes Observatory at the University of Minessota-Duluth, focusing on sediment-water interfaces in natural and anthropogenic aquatic environments, and writing about his daily experiences in an LJ blog.

Download: two-page Russian text of the problems, without title, printed with a dot matrix printer, provided by Russian organizing committee in 1992 (pdf.)

Download: three-page brochure with the schedule of the 4th all-Soviet Young Physicists’ Tournament (Odessa, April 11-18, 1991), in Russian, photocopied from typewriter printed pages (pdf.)

I. M. Can you suggest if the problem set included into the 1992 paper by Leonid Markovich was indeed discussed during the 5th IYPT, or some problems were at a certain moment replaced? The tricky point is that problems are different among different sources (one version has a problem about lifting ping-pong ball instead of “Dam” (No. 3) and an additional 18th problem about “Superpreserves”; one version has 24 problems overall; and one more version replaces No. 6 “Matches” with a problem about height of a flame.)

S. K. I am pleased to hear that someone is still interested by those Physics Fights.

Seemingly, the problems are perfectly correct. There was certainly “Dam”, and no balls for ping-pong. Matches were there as well.

Concerning the 18th problem, to invite us for a Napoleon cognac, Markovich has never ended up with clearly formulating the issue :-)

I. M. Did you possibly preserve photos, leaflets or notes from 1992? What problem did you report in the Finals?

S. K. I certainly have something at my home. I can scan it for history :-)

Maxim Zaitsev and I reported “Fountain” at the Finals. The most work was performed by Maxim, and I only assisted him.

I dug into my archives and found the tasks in Russian. There are no pictures from the Tournament itself, but there is a picture of the entire team taken at the graduation party (from the Lyceum of Belarusian State University), including persons who worked on the problems, but could not go to the competition, because only 6 persons in a team were permitted.

Left to right are (with participants marked with *): Misha Khusid (*), Dima Chigrin (*), Sergei Lyapko, Leonid Markovich (team leader), Maxim Zaitsev (*, captain), Sergei Katsev (*), Alexander Klimovich (*), Dima Bogomolov, Maxim Chechetkin, Shura Bernstein (*).

The only one missing is Roma Loznikov, who constructed a train on magnetic suspension for the first problem.

I have also copies of a report for “Boiling”, schedule for the all-Soviet Tournament in Odessa in 1991, and a group photo from Odessa with three or four teams altogether.

Here is the Minsk team, several people from Odessa, and members of several more teams, but I do not already remember who is from where. I remember only the name, Irina, of a team leader from one of these two teams. Next to her is Leonid Markovich, our team leader.

It would be interesting to trace how many participants of the Tournaments of those days continued to work in physics. Out of six players in our team, three are directly connected to physics (besides me, Dima Chigrin and Max Zaitsev work at German universities), and one resides in Belarus (Klimovich.) Misha Khusid and Shurik Bernstein graduated from MIT, but Misha works now as an engineering manager, and Shurik decided to devote his life to travels worldwide.

I. M. Many thanks.

The interview was primarily taken on September 28-29, 2009 and on October 8, 2010.

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