International Olympiad on Astronomy & Astrophysics

The endpoint of all the BAAO competitions is to choose a team to represent the UK at the International Olympiad on Astronomy & Astrophysics (IOAA). Started in 2007, approximately 50 countries now take part. Each country can send a team of up to five students (all of whom are before they start university) with two team leaders (typically former team members and / or teachers), and up to two observers. They will take part in difficult exams, but also various excursions and entertainments put on by the organisers to show local culture, as well as to let the students mix together and form genuine long-lasting friendships.

You can read more about the experience of the Oxford Astro camp and attending the IOAA in Poland from one of the students on the 2023 team, Charlotte, in her blog post here.

What happens at the IOAA?

The final mark at the IOAA is determined from three components:

Once all the marks are in, the lower of either the median mark or half marks is used as the reference mark, M, to normalise the data. Similar is done for the Theory totals and for the Practical (= Data Analysis + Observation) totals to get MTh and MPrac respectively. Medals are then decided as:

There is normally also a team competition with a special award, although the teams are made from a random mix of people from a variety of countries and do not contribute to the final medals. Other special awards include Best Theory, Best Data Analysis, Best Observer, as well as Overall Winner, with additional awards decided by the host country.

For more information about the IOAA and its history, as well as links to past papers and recommended books, see the IOAA's official website.

UK at the IOAA

This table shows the year and venue of the IOAA since the UK started competing in 2015. Also shown are the numbers of Gold, Silver and Bronze medals and Honourable Mentions awarded to the UK team at each IOAA, as well as participations. We also include the rank position of our highest performing student and the number of competitors taking part that year.

YearVenue & HostGoldSilverBronzeHMPCHighest UK
2023Katowice, Poland 500005th236
2022Kutaisi, Georgia 0320029th209
2021Virtual, Colombia 2210024th293
2020Virtual, Estonia 221109th279
2019Keszthely, Hungary 131006th254
2018Beijing, China 0202158th202
2017Phuket, Thailand 0130132nd219
2016Bhubaneswar, India 1112010th221
2015Semarang, Indonesia 0200123rd208

How is the UK team selected?

The UK Astro Team is selected through participation in the British Astronomy and Astrophysics Olympiad. The top 14 students from Astro Round 2 (that haven't already been invited to the Physics camp) are invited to compete for a spot on the team at the Astro Easter Camp in Oxford, as detailed on the BPhO pages. The UK team normally comprises five Year 13 students, but younger students are welcome to apply. In 2017, 2018 and 2021 the timing of the competition meant we could only take Year 12 students, so those invited to the Easter camp were chosen from those that had done well in the Senior Physics Challenge rather than in Astro Round 2.

A video showing experiences at the 2023 Oxford camp is below: