International Physics Olympiad

The culmination of the British Physics Olympiad year is the International Physics Olympiad. Over 80 countries are represented at the IPhO, established in 1967. Each country is invited to send a team of up to five school students and two teachers. As in the sporting Olympics, the International Physics Olympiad offers students both the opportunity to test themselves at the highest level and a unique cultural and social opportunity. Despite the two challenging five hour exams (one theoretical, one experimental), a festival atmosphere persists and the programme of excursions and social activities gives students the chance to learn about the host culture and make friends from across the globe.


The International Physics Olympiad is an international physics competition for secondary school students from participating countries. The first IPhO took place in Warsaw (Poland) in 1967 and subsequent IPhOs have occurred, with a few exceptions, in a different country each year. The UK hosted an IPhO in 1986 and again in 2000.

What happens at the International Physics Olympiad?

Typically, the team from each country consists of five students and two supervisors. All the supervisors form the International Board. One day of an IPhO is devoted to a theoretical paper (three problems involving at least four areas of physics) and another to an experimental paper (one or two problems). Students receive the examination papers in their national languages and the time allowed for each examination is five hours.

The IPhO is intended as a competition between individuals only. There is no team result. To classify the contestants the mean points obtained by the three best is normalised to 100%. Contestants with more than 90% receive gold medals. Those between 90% and 78% receive silver medals. Those between 78% and 65% receive bronze medals. Honourable Mentions are awarded to those between 65% and 50%. All other contestants receive certificates of participation. The absolute winner of the IPhO receives an additional prize and some special prizes can also be awarded.

For more information about the IPhO and its history, see the Official IPhO website, and also the Unofficial IPhO website. In July 2024 the IPhO will be held in Iran. A UK team will take part.


UK at the IPhO

This table shows the year and venue of the IPhO since the UK started competing in 1984. Also shown are the numbers of Gold, Silver and Bronze medals and Honourable Mentions awarded to the UK team at each IPhO, followed by the total number which were awarded that year.

 Year    Venue & Host   Gold    Silver    Bronze    HM 
2023Tokyo, Japan0/373/742/1030/54
2022Virtual, Switzerland0/392/713/970/95
2021Virtual, Lithuania0/451/614/940/62
2020Not held
2019Tel Aviv, Israel0/343/662/1010/50
2018Lisbon, Portugal0/421/694/990/67
2017Yogyakarta, Indonesia2/641/722/1020/73
2016Zurich, Switz. & Liech.0/473/742/980/65
2015Mumbai, India0/382/643/930/68
2014Astana, Kazakhstan1/444/822/860/63
2013Copenhagen, Denmark0/413/642/1010/64
2012Tallinn & Tartu, Estonia0/452/713/920/63
2011Bangkok, Thailand0/543/682/930/67
2010Zagreb, Croatia1/351/663/970/66
2009Merida, Mexico0/413/702/790/45
2008Hanoi, Vietnam0/460/474/781/87
2007Isfahan, Iran1/371/461/512/81
2005Salamanca, Spain0/460/262/633/96
2004Pohang, Korea0/311/351/681/82
2003TaiwanUK did not participate
2002Bali, Indonesia1/421/373/580/68
2001Antalya, Turkey0/101/262/490/47
2000Leicester, UK0/150/112/422/62
1999Padua, Italy0/303/712/540/57
1998Reykjavik, Iceland0/111/151/431/55
1997Sudbury, Canada0/182/323/540/55
1996Oslo, Norway0/200/252/471/63
1995Canberra, Australia2/250/283/430/54
1994Beijing, China 1/6 0/52/220/37
1993Williamsburg, USA1/18 2/161/331/41
1992Helsinki-Espoo, Finland0/13 4/201/240/35
1991Havana, Cuba0/13 1/102/311/21
1990Groningen, Netherlands1/6 2/120/253/24
1989Warsaw, Poland1/10 2/261/301/33
1988Bad Ischl, Austria1/7 1/231/290/27
1987Jena, German Democratic Republic0/3 1/100/292/30
1986Harrow, London, UK0/4 1/52/222/27
1985Portoroz, Yugoslavia1/5 1/62/170/25
1984Sigtuna, Sweden0/9 0/52/161/17

How is the UK team selected?

The UK Physics Team is selected through participation in the British Physics Olympiad. The top 50 students from Paper 2 are invited to compete in further rounds, as detailed on the BPhO pages. The UK team normally comprises five Year 13 students, but younger students are welcome to apply.

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