2012 team

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From 1986 to 2011, the United States Teams have brought home: 43 Gold Medals, 31 Silver Medals, 29 Bronze Medals, and 11 Honorable Mentions. — AAPT.ORG

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Photo of Shi Fan Chen

Shi Fan Chen

Exeter, NH

Phillips Exeter Academy

Grade: Junior


reading (especially the novels of Luis Cha), northern longfist and taichi, looking at art, badminton (and other racket sports), hiking, snorkeling, programming


Concert Band, Physics Club, Math Club, Astronomy Club, Heronfield Academy MathCounts coaching


AIME, HMMT, USABO Semifinals (2011)


I never thought I would like physics. By the time I was in elementary school I had figured out that physics entailed substantial amounts of math, a subject in which my performance was average at best. Furthermore, I mistook physics for the study of levers and pulleys, and thus concluded that it was frightfully boring and artificial. I somehow never connected the "cool stuff"-black holes, quantum mechanics, particle physics-to the physics. I was interested in science, however. In particular, I was fascinated by the incredible complexity that arises from simple, themes (like the Central Dogma) in biology. I read from Campbell's biology and collected protists from a nearby pond to examine under a toy microscope.

The logistic equation was the turning point. I remember seeing it for the first time when reading about Population Ecology. Unsatisfied with the book's explanation, I set out to learn what this "calculus" was. Around this time (7th grade), Mom found me a math tutor, Mr. Lu, who turned out to be a physics teacher. We quickly tackled basic calculus, and he said he would show me some basic physics after I told him I wanted to learn more about general relativity and quantum mechanics. The floodgates were opened.

I began reading physics from the Feynman Lectures. Feynman's explanations of complex phenomena from basic physics were riveting, and I was awestruck by his clever, unorthodox ways of presenting the material. I strive for that level of physical intuition and the ability to use simple models to understand complex phenomena-the same reason I like biology (and thus biophysics). The chapter where Feynman uses only F = ma and Newtonian Gravity to obtain numerically elliptical trajectories inspired me to program. Now, whenever I learn a new physics, whether it be QM or the Ising Model, I attempt to explore it numerically.

Around the time I left Taipei for Exeter, I came across Leonard Susskind's lectures on Modern Physics, which introduced me to Analytical Mechanics and Field Theory. I was awestruck again, this time by the humbling beauty of overarching themes and (sometimes broken) symmetries. I began learning physics more intensely in order to study those themes seriously. I have been fortunate enough to be able to talk physics on a regular basis with Mr. Jim DiCarlo (good conversation is fantastic but hard to find). Mr. DiCarlo is also responsible for convincing me to take the f=ma exam. Last year, I was also introduced to Professor John Dawson at UNH. He continues to amaze me by leading me through derivations from General Relativity to particle physics to his research in cold atoms.

Along with the teachers/mentors mentioned above, I would also like to thank Mr. Wei for teaching me critical thinking in mathematics, Ms. Yoko Tsai for showing me countless cool experiments, and Kophu Chiang for continually giving me invaluable advice on doing physics. I thank my parents for their continued support. I am excited to meet and chat with the other members of the physics team and to learn some cool physics!

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