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10 Best Physics Competitions for High School Students

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


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!


National round:


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


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)

Location: Virtual

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

Location: Virtual

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

Location: Virtual

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


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

Location: Virtual

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.


If you're looking for a real-world internship that can help boost your resume while applying to college, we recommend Ladder Internships!


Ladder Internships is a selective program equipping students with virtual internship experiences at startups and nonprofits around the world! 


The startups range across a variety of industries, and each student can select which field they would most love to deep dive into. This is also a great opportunity for students to explore areas they think they might be interested in, and better understand professional career opportunities in those areas. The startups are based all across the world, with the majority being in the United States, Asia and then Europe and the UK. 

The fields include technology, machine learning and AI, finance, environmental science and sustainability, business and marketing, healthcare and medicine, media and journalism and more.


You can explore all the options here on their application form. As part of their internship, each student will work on a real-world project that is of genuine need to the startup they are working with, and present their work at the end of their internship. In addition to working closely with their manager from the startup, each intern will also work with a Ladder Coach throughout their internship - the Ladder Coach serves as a second mentor and a sounding board, guiding you through the internship and helping you navigate the startup environment. 

Cost: $1490 (Financial Aid Available)

Location:  Remote! You can work from anywhere in the world.

Application deadline: April 16 and May 14

Program dates: 8 weeks, June to August

Eligibility: Students who can work for 10-20 hours/week, for 8-12 weeks. Open to high school students, undergraduates and gap year students!


Additionally, you can also work on independent research in AI, through Veritas AI's Fellowship Program!


Veritas AI focuses on providing high school students who are passionate about the field of AI a suitable environment to explore their interests. The programs include collaborative learning, project development, and 1-on-1 mentorship. 


These programs are designed and run by Harvard graduate students and alumni and you can expect a great, fulfilling educational experience. Students are expected to have a basic understanding of Python or are recommended to complete the AI scholars program before pursuing the fellowship. 


The AI Fellowship program will have students pursue their own independent AI research project. Students work on their own individual research projects over a period of 12-15 weeks and can opt to combine AI with any other field of interest. In the past, students have worked on research papers in the field of AI & medicine, AI & finance, AI & environmental science, AI & education, and more! You can find examples of previous projects here

Location: Virtual

Cost

  • $1,790 for the 10-week AI Scholars program

  • $4,900 for the 12-15 week AI Fellowship 

  • $4,700 for both

  • Need-based financial aid is available. You can apply here

Application deadline: On a rolling basis. Applications for fall cohort have closed September 3, 2023. 

Program dates: Various according to the cohort

Program selectivity: Moderately selective

Eligibility: Ambitious high school students located anywhere in the world. AI Fellowship applicants should either have completed the AI Scholars program or exhibit past experience with AI concepts or Python.

Application Requirements: Online application form, answers to a few questions pertaining to the students background & coding experience, math courses, and areas of interest. 


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.


Also check out the Lumiere Research Inclusion Foundation, a non-profit research program for talented, low-income students.


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.



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