Traditional exams at secondary schools and universities cannot fulfill the need to find talented students that are deeply interested in science. Founded in 1940s, theoretical Olympiads are still remaining an effective method to find students who may use all of their background knowledge to solve an intriguing complicated problem. However, they are sometimes viewed as requiring very specific skills, e.g. involving only individual competitors (which is not typical in today’s science).
But the distinctive feature of exams and Olympiads is that every question and every problem has a certain predetermined answer. As a result, every participant may provide a solution that is either correct either incorrect (from the organizers’ point of view).
On the contrary, a usual scientist faces problems that never had any solution before. Many physicists, including Pyotr Kapitsa and Richard Feynman, have put emphasis on the questions: if their best students could handle a problem that does not have a unique known answer? Could these students be responsible for the validity of their proposals and treat them with a degree of scientific skepticism? Was it worth offering an open research problem to a talented student?
The POISK Centre believes that the positive answers to these questions became evident in recent decades. The Centre supports this very technique to encourage students to learn physics and uses this very principle to select the most able of them.
The problems are known in a long time before the competition itself. The participants have to investigate certain phenomena as deeply as possible, to propose theoretical models and to perform experiments on their own. During the preparation phase, students may use any literature and advice. This type of activity enables students to interact and collaborate directly with university researchers and professors. The results of their work are presented in a report and are quite often published.
Such competitions, of course, require serious motivated preparation work. The jurors grade not only the independence of research and the validity of the results but also the ability to clearly present and defend these results in discussion with opponent.
Despite the fact that the competitions of this type are still competitions, POISK Centre believes that their primary aim is not to determine and announce the winner, but to teach and motivate as many talented participants as possible, not only a select few.
Any scientific activity is impossible without excellent skills in English. That is why the POISK Centre pays most attention to language programs and collaboration with scientific language centres. Many seminars, conferences and competitions hosted by the Centre are held in English.
The Centre aims to form creative minds and to encourage students to have deep academic knowledge in physics, mathematics and applied sciences, to be able to use and apply this knowledge, to have motivation to active participation in scientific conferences and seminars, and to develop both teamwork skills and experience of defending their achievements.
POISK Centre believes that a successful scientific activity expands international collaboration and removes artificial barriers between people from different countries that have the same interests and the same goals.
However, these principles go far beyond students’ researches. Even the authors of the questions, jurors and team leaders are unlikely to know all about physical problems underlying the tasks. They also have a great chance to learn themselves when they help students. That is why the research-oriented competitions enjoy a growing interest from curious minds all over the world. «Docendo discimus», stated a Latin saying, «When we teach, we learn ourselves».