2012 team

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The Olympiad is a nine-day international competition among pre-university students from more than 60 nations. — AAPT.ORG

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Photo of Preetum Nakkiran

Preetum Nakkiran

Redmond, WA

Redmond High School

Grade: Senior


Computer and microcontroller programming; robotics; electronics; reading and thinking about algorithms, physics, and recreational math; flying model airplanes; skiing


Robotics Club, Science Club, Math Team, Model Aeronautics Club


2nd Place - VEX Robotics World Championship Programming/Overall (2009/10), 1st Place - AT&T Mobile App Hackathon (2011), 1st Place Integration - WA State Mu Alpha Theta (2011), 1st Place Chemistry, Thermodynamics - Regional Science Olympiad (2011-12), "Most Innovative Game" - Microsoft Hunt the Wumpus programming competition (2011), Honorable Mention - Startup Weekend Seattle (2012), AIME Qualifier, National Merit Finalist, National AP Scholar


I have always been fascinated by two things: discovery and creation. When I was young, I would pry apart every mechanical device I could lay my hands on, trying to discover the secret of their workings. Then I would use this knowledge to combine the components in new ways, creating semi-functioning mechanisms of my own. These basic drives have fueled my interest in science and engineering to this day.

These days, I still spend most of my time creating things, though my creations often take the form of bits and bytes. Computer programming and robotics attract me for the thrill of invention: I can start out with nothing but an idea in my mind, and end with an autonomous robot, or a powerful algorithm. In my tinkering, I've built a 3D projectile tracker, created a programming language, and am currently working on a small UAV.

Common to all of my interests is the challenge of problem solving. I enjoy grappling with a difficult problem, decomposing it into its components, looking at it from multiple angles, and trying to come up with an elegant or creative solution. And at the end of a good problem, especially in physics, I can walk away with some greater insight or intuition than I had before.

This is what struck me most when I was first exposed to physics, in my 9th grade regular physics class at Redmond High School. I was amazed by the elegance of physics, and how my teacher - Mr. Peter Saxby - could solve such a wide range of problems using such a small set of laws. I initially treated physics as just another source of interesting problems. Yet soon, through the passionate teachings of Mr. Saxby, I began to see physics as much more powerful, and beautiful - it tried to explain all the complexities of the universe from simple, intuitive models. I developed an eye for physical intuition, and Mr. Saxby fed my curiosity with ever more interesting phenomena and explanations. Just for fun, I took the AAPT Physics Olympiad for the first time in freshman year, and enjoyed the challenge of working out problems with only my basic understanding of mechanics. I have maintained my interest in physics in the years since, guided by Mr. Saxby, supported by my parents, and inspired by the words of Richard P. Feynman. After taking AP Physics and studying electricity & magnetism independently with Mr. Saxby, I took the Physics Olympiad again this year. I qualified in the F=ma round, and had great fun thinking about the problems on the semifinal exam. Like I had in 9th grade, I took the exams mostly to see what interesting problems they posed, never with the intention or expectation of qualifying. I was stunned and overjoyed to learn that I had been selected for the US Physics Team!

I will be graduating this year, and plan on attending UC Berkeley to study Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. I cannot think of a better end to the year than ten days of intense physics education, in the company of like-minded peers. I am honored and very excited for this experience, and I look forward to meeting the rest of the team!

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