“It sounded like fun”

“It sounded like fun”

20. November 2017 | by Thorsten Naeser

Sven Jandura, a student at LMU Munich, won the top prize in his category at this year’s Schwartz International Physics Competition in Oradea in Romania. In addition to his laurels, he brought a host of new impressions back to Munich with him.

At first, Sven Jandura couldn’t quite register what had just been said. A moment before, in the auditorium of the Ady Endre Gymnasium in Oradea, he was waiting expectantly with 80 other contestants for the announcement of the winners of the Schwartz International Physics Competition. Then Dr. Istvan Bartos, the organizer of the competition, stepped forward to reveal the name of the winner in the Students Category – and Sven heard his own name ring out through the hall. His solutions to the ten problems posed in the test had been judged to be the most compelling set returned. As Istvan Bartos congratulates him, Sven receives the applause of the audience – among which the ovation from his team-mates, who made 1000-km trip from Munich with him, is especially frenetic.

Sven was one of four entrants from Munich assembled by the two local organizers, Dr. Silke Stähler-Schöpf and Dr. Zsuzsanna Major. Three years earlier, when he was still at school, Sven had visited PhotonLab, the lab for high-school students, which is affiliated with the Laboratory for Attosecond Physics (LAP) at the Max Planck Institute for Quantum Optics in Garching. Here he came into contact with laser technology for the first time, and got to know Dr. Stähler-Schöpf, who heads the PhotonLab. Dr. Major is a laser physicist in the LAP, and its Director, Prof. Ferenc Krausz, is an enthusiastic supporter of the competition in Oradea.

After graduating from high school in Dresden, Sven moved to Munich to take up his university studies. “Munich has so much to offer in the field of physics – two universities and several Max Planck Institutes. “That was what motivated me to study here,” he says, before adding as an afterthought, “and the beer here isn’t bad either.” He still finds lasers “cool”, but his primary interest at the moment is quantum computing.

Sven learned about the competition in Romania from a friend of his. “Ann-Kathrin Raab asked me whether I would be interested in taking part in it,” he says. “It sounded like fun, and I had never been to Romania. I have twice been a contestant in the International Physics Olympiad, so I wanted to try something a little more exotic this time.”

In the company of Ann-Katrin Raab, Jonas Hamp and Serafin Körner, and with Silke Stähler-Schöpf and Zsuzsanna Major as chaperones, the team set out on the 11-h bus trip to Oradea. The city in western Romania is located close to the border with Hungary, and the architecture in the city center bears witness to the influence of the Hungarians, who still make up a sizeable minority of Oradea’s inhabitants. The annual Schwartz Memorial Physics Competition was initiated (and is still organized) by former physics teacher Istvan Bartos, and has traditionally attracted teams from Eastern Europe. The Ady Endre High School serves as the venue for the competition, as well as accommodating the young contestants. This year was the first time that a team from Germany was among them.

Sven came well prepared. The exercises set in previous years had been provided to all participants, together with their worked-out solutions. So he went into this year’s test in a quietly confident frame of mind. The problems were drawn from the fields of optics, mechanics, electricity, thermodynamics and chemistry. The competitors had 3 hours to solve the 10 conundrums, which meant they couldn’t afford to dawdle.

The Awards Ceremony took place that evening, following a series of lectures given by invited speakers. The winners in each category were announced, with Sven taking the honors – and the prize money of 100 Romanian lei (about 25 euros) – in the Students’ Category. “After it was all over, I went for a good dinner in town with the other competitors,” he says.

Sven’s victory was not the only memorable aspect of the trip. The following day was devoted to relaxation and sightseeing, and the PhotonLab team was able to visit the imposing Bears’ Cave, located 85 km east of Oradea. The cave system features imposing calcareous formations formed over the course of thousands of years by the precipitation of calcium from the waters that constantly percolate through the porous terrain. A guided tour of the old center of Oradea rounded out a stimulating and intriguing day. On the way back to Munich, Ann-Kathrin and Sven decided on a stopover in Budapest, and spent a day exploring the Hungarian capital. All in all, the trip will have left them with a trove of memories.