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July 2007 Issue
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Adelaide strength in Olympiad showcase


The University of Adelaide is prominent in the latest showcase of Australia's scientific prowess. Three past or present students are among 15 high achievers featured in a new publication to celebrate more than 20 years of Australia's involvement in the prestigious International Science and Mathematics Olympiad programs.

They include Dr Matthew Sorell - now a lecturer in the School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering - who was part of the hastily assembled first Science team which travelled to Jena in the then East Germany for the International Physics Olympiad.

The year was 1987 and Dr Sorell was in Year 12 at St Peter's College. "We didn't do well at all," he recalls, "but we scored more points than the organisers expected."

Just as importantly, they returned inspired to tutor future competitors and Australia now competes annually in each of five separate Olympiads - Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Mathematics and Informatics.

Our other featured "Olympiad alumni", Alex Flint and Pat Coleman, each went to two Informatics Olympiads, competing together in 2003 when Pat won a bronze medal, placing him in the top half of a high-calibre, 300-strong field. Alex was then at Glenunga High School and Pat at St Peter's College.

They reunited at university, where Pat is in the final year of his Bachelor of Computer Science and Alex his Honours year, and decided to relive the Olympiad experience by putting together a team to compete in the annual international competition run by the US Association for Computing Machinery.

The University of Adelaide team won the national division in both years that they took part, allowing them to again represent Australia overseas. And the tradition continues at the University.

Alex has since completed an internship with Google Australia and will begin work with the company as a software engineer next year. "It all indirectly flowed from the Olympiad," he said. "Without that I wouldn't have wanted to get the ACM team started and wouldn't have learned what I've learned."

The Olympiads are for the best of the best and are extremely intensive. To prepare, Year 11 and 12 students have about two weeks to cram in the core knowledge from a first-year level university course.

"More than 400 students have represented Australia over the years from all over the country so to have three of the 15 with links to one university is a strong showing," Dr Sorell said.

Each year more than 4,000 senior secondary students sit the National Qualifying Examinations for Science (Biology, Chemistry and Physics) and Mathematics.

"For the past 20 years Australian Science Innovations has been privileged to work with the hundreds of inspired and talented young people whom we recognise as being our leaders and achievers of the future," said the Chair of Australian Science Innovations, Mr Peter Russo. "It has been a wonderfully rewarding journey for all concerned."

All three University of Adelaide alumni say the Olympiad was an unbeatable experience and encourage others to get involved. "It opens your eyes to more things that can be done," Dr Sorell said.

The commemorative publication, Uncovered-Discovered, was launched in Canberra on June 21 by The Hon. Julie Bishop, Minister for Education, Science and Training.

Story by Nick Carne

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From left: Matthew Sorell, Alex Flint and Pat Coleman
Photo by John Hemmings

From left: Matthew Sorell, Alex Flint and Pat Coleman
Photo by John Hemmings

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