Physics has its tentacles spread far and wide in the world of STEM. Here is a list of the 10 best physics competitions that are prestigious, engaging, and give you an opportunity to see how you stack against your peers. If you win any of these, it’ll definitely impress admissions officers; but even if you do not win, a lot of these competitions leave you with small-scale projects that you can keep improving and turn into something impressive.
10 Great Physics Competitions
1. International Physics Olympiad (IPhO)
The International Physics Olympiad (IPhO) had its first edition in 1967 and sees participation from thousands of students each year. It is also held in a different country every year. The Olympiad tests students on their knowledge of physics concepts, a few of them being - Mechanics, Electromagnetism, and Thermodynamics.
To qualify for the International Physics Olympiad, you must first participate in regional/national-level physics tests, which may vary based on your country of residence. If you qualify as one of the top finalists, you are sent to represent your country at the IPhO! Tip: You can check out sample questions from previous years here!
Based on your scores from the F=ma exam, you qualify for the US Physics Olympiad, which then feeds into the IPhO.
Dates: July 10 - 17, 2023
Application Deadline: To be announced
Location: National Olympics Memorial Youth Center in Tokyo, Japan.
Prizes: Medals and certificates
Eligibility: All high school students can compete
2. Physics Bowl
A competition hosted only for high school students from all around the world, Physics Bowl tests your knowledge of physics, its basic concepts, applications in the real world, as well as modern physics. Each test is scored by the American Association of Physics Teachers. You are expected to answer 40 MCQ-based questions in 45 minutes and the exam is difficult, with the average score being about 40-50%. To qualify for Physics Bowl on an international level, you must first participate in school-level, regional-level, and national-level rounds. The competition has two further divisions, for first-year physics students, and second-year physics students.
Physics Bowl is one of the most prestigious and competitive physics competitions in the country, and prepping and participating in the challenge is sure to enhance your knowledge and analytical thinking skills!
Do note that you must pay $5 to register yourself for this challenge.
Tip: You can test yourself before the competition using these printable tests!
Dates: March 22 to April 14, 2023
Application Deadline: February 27, 2023!
Location: Varies according to your region, most school-level rounds are held under the supervision of your teachers at your school itself.
Prizes: Awards and certificates
Eligibility: All high school students can apply!
Here's why Physics Brawl made it to the list - it's got a unique question format, and its questions are made to challenge your conceptual and application-based knowledge, as well as your ability to think outside the box when it comes to physics. The Physics Brawl sees over 900 teams from 55+ countries participate every year and compete for prizes and awards. Here's how the challenge is designed, and why it’s different in terms of question format - over 3 hours, you are presented with a set of 7 problems. As soon as you solve one, you are presented with the next. The faster you get to the end, the higher your chances of winning the Brawl are.
Tip: Curious about the type of questions you'll face? Take a look!
Dates: November 23, 2023 (based on last year's timetable)
Application Deadline: Applications are open until November 23, and open on October 3, 2023 (based on last year's timetable)
Prizes: Merchandise, access to Wolfram Mathematica, OrgPad, and Avast.
Eligibility: All high schools students from around the world can participate
A quiz that tests your knowledge of classical mechanics, the PUPC is an international-level test for all high school students. In terms of curriculum, it tests students on classical mechanics, as well as logical and analytical skills. You must sign up for this test individually and must answer questions within 90 minutes. This competition is a prestigious one, and a great addition to your resume while applying to top institutes for a degree in physics or related subjects. The test is competitive, with hundreds of students battling for the top spots every year. Around half the participants get an average of 25% of the answers correct, while top scorers range between 65-68%.
Tip: You can find past year’s problems, solutions, and winning scores here.
Dates: November 6, 2023 (based on last year's schedule)
Application Deadline: Applications for 2023 haven't opened yet, but usually close by October end.
Location: Virtual, paper-based on partner institutions
Prizes: Certificates and recognition
Eligibility: All high school students are eligible to participate
A test of basic high school physics concepts, the Sir Isaacs Newton Exam is open to all high school students in the US and Canada. Offered by the University of Waterloo, the exam sees over 2,500 students participate from over 300 schools. This exam is an excellent opportunity if you're a high-school senior or junior, since the syllabus is already part of your school curriculum, making it easy for you to study it with the help of your peers, teachers, and mentors. The test requires registration and is completely free of cost. To familiarize yourself with the type of questions that will be asked during the exam, check this out!
Dates: May 5, 2023 (based on last year's timetable)
Application Deadline: April 28, 2023 (based on last year's deadline)
Location: Virtual/Paper-based in partner schools
Prizes: Medals, certificates, and awards
Eligibility: All high school students are eligible
Organized since 1991, the National Science Bowl is a coveted, highly competitive competition that aims to encourage students to excel in math and science. The Bowl sees 1000+ students participate every year and tests students on their knowledge of physics, energy, Earth science, chemistry, biology, and math.
To participate, you must participate in regional rounds, which you can look for here. In teams of 4-5 students, you must be the regional winner to be invited to the Science Bowl Finals in Washington D.C.
Dates: Regional Events dates may vary, National Finals are held from April 27 - May 1, 2023.
Application Deadline: Registrations close 3 weeks before the date of the regional event.
Location: Varies from state to state, finals are held in Washington D.C.
Prizes: Cash prizes, scholarships
Eligibility: All high school students can participate
The ExploraVision challenge is hosted by Toshiba/National Science Teaching Association and invites high school students to work on real-world problem-solving with a strong emphasis on STEM. ExploraVision has seen entries from over 450,000 students from across the US since its first edition in 1992.
As part of the challenge, you are expected, in a team of 2-4 students, to pick a current technology, conduct research on how it can be improved, and present your thoughts on how it might look in 10 years.
You can draw from your knowledge of physics, tech, and AI, to name a few, and present, along with your idea of tech in 10 years, its development steps, pros & cons, and obstacles.
Tip: Here are a few examples of past projects that you can take a look at!
Submission Deadline: January 31, 2023
Prizes: Winners receive -
Up to $240,000* in savings bonds
An expense-paid trip to Washington, DC in June for
ExploraVision Awards Weekend for each national winning
Students and their parents/guardians
A technology/science-related gift
Eligibility: Open to all high school students studying in the US and Canada.
One of the most popular competitions amongst budding young scientists, the Regeneron ISEF is the world's biggest pre-college STEM competition.
It invites entries from thousands of high-school students every year. To participate at Regeneron ISEF, you first must participate in a local or regional-level fair, and based on your performance, will then be shortlisted for the ISEF program that calls finalists from all over the country to present their innovations, research, etc. in a hybrid format. ISEF is extremely competitive, with a 2-5% acceptance rate at qualifying fairs.
You participate by presenting original research work that has been going on for no longer than 12 months - be it in the fields of organic, inorganic, material science, etc. Some subcategories you can present your research in Physics for include atomic, molecular, and optical physics, astronomy and cosmology, biological physics, condensed matter and materials, mechanics, and nuclear and particle physics.
Working on physics-related research projects and being a shortlisted finalist to present at ISEF is a prestigious opportunity. The ISEF also provides a great way for you to build a network with like-minded, passionate young students such as yourself.
Tip: We’ve covered everything you need to know about ISEF in this guide!
Dates: Local and regional events take place throughout the year but usually conclude by April. The ISEF Fair will take place from May 13-19, 2023.
Application Deadline: Varies from state to state
Location: Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center - Dallas, Texas
Prizes: Special Awards such as tuition scholarships, summer internships, and scientific trips, as well as cash prizes of up to $75,000
Eligibility: All high-school students with a strong passion for research in science, math, and engineering can apply
If you've carried out independent scientific research and are looking for a platform that helps you develop your research, presentation, and analytical skills, you should consider applying for the Regeneron STS, one of the country's most prestigious science competitions.
STS receives nearly 1900+ applications each year and shortlists about 40 of them to the STS Final in Washington D.C. for a public presentation. Getting shortlisted for this presentation is nothing short of public recognition of your potential when it comes to research in chemistry and is an excellent addition to your resume.
If you're passionate about a career in research in the field of physics, STS is an excellent opportunity for you - winners receive support and sponsorship for future research as well.
Dates: June 1 - March 14, 2023
Application Deadline: November 9, 2022
Prizes: Cash prizes of up to $250,000, and all finalists are awarded a trip to Washington D.C. and are taken on scientific field trips, mentorship sessions, and more as part of their prep program.
Eligibility: All US-based high school seniors can apply
10. Davidson Fellows
A program that looks for the brightest minds in STEM to support and guide, the Davidson Institute hosts its annual Fellows program for high-achieving students. Winning teams are awarded prizes of up to $50,000 to support future research work or academic advancement. To apply for the Fellows Program, you must submit original work that covers any of the following criteria -
an exceptionally creative application of existing knowledge
a new idea with high impact
an innovative solution with broad-range implications
an important advancement that can be replicated and built upon
an interdisciplinary discovery
a prodigious performance
another demonstration of extraordinary accomplishment
You must enter in teams of not more than 2 students, and submit work that is at, or close to, college graduate level in terms of depth, understanding of the subject, and quality of presentation.
Here’s a winning entry in the field of Physics
A new method of state preparation that expands the scope of the existing quantum Monte Carlo algorithm to applications such as drug discoveries, and industrial manufacturing.
Submission Deadline: February 15, 2023
Prizes: Cash prizes of up to $50,000, the title of a 'Davidson Fellow'.
Eligibility: All high school students under the age of 18, who reside in the US can apply
Tip: The program invites applications across various subjects, you can check out guidelines for science submissions here.
Lumiere Research Scholar Program
If you are interested in doing university-level research in physics, then you could consider applying to the Lumiere Research Scholar Program, a selective online high school program for students that I founded with researchers at Harvard and Oxford. Last year, we had over 2100 students apply for 500 spots in the program! You can find the application form here.
Stephen is one of the founders of Lumiere and a Harvard College graduate. He founded Lumiere as a PhD student at Harvard Business School. Lumiere is a selective research program where students work 1-1 with a research mentor to develop an independent research paper.