Student Earns a Top Score in National PhysicsBowl

Student Earns a Top Score in National PhysicsBowl

Alice Pan ’21 earned the second highest score in the New England region on the 2021 National PhysicsBowl exam.

The National PhysicsBowl includes two divisions: one for students who are taking AP or regular physics for the first time, and the second for students who have completed one year of physics or more. Pan achieved the second highest score in our region on the Division 2 test, which is the more difficult of the two exams, according to Steven Bailey P’09 of the Science Department faculty – and she wasn’t even taking physics this year!

“She asked me if she could take test. I said, ‘Sure,’ Bailey said, explaining the exam was not offered in 2020 due to the global pandemic. When the scores were released, Bailey said he looked over and spotted Pan’s name along with a really fine score, especially in our highly competitive region, which includes students in Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island.

“She was two standard deviations beyond the norm. She did exceptionally well. I’ve been here 16 years and it’s the first time a student did that,” Bailey said, adding, “Quite the achievement in what I consider the most difficult region in the USA.”

Pan said physics is her favorite science subject. Why? “Its pretty magical,” she said. “People will say, ‘Chemistry has more interesting lab experiments, why don’t you like chemistry?’ I really like how physics digs deep into mechanical movements and those things we don’t even observe but are really there. My favorite part is quantum physics. A lot of things we don’t see in this way on a much larger scale but we can actually observe when we break things down. It’s going to be super interesting.” 

Although she has not taken a physics class for two years – since she was a sophomore  – she said she was not nervous heading into the exam. “I wasn’t aiming for a good score when I started. When I got the exam, I thought, ‘I am definitely doing better,’ because the questions seemed easier than sophomore year. When I finished it, I thought I did pretty well, but not well enough.”

Her response when Bailey delivered the news about her score? She wrote an email back to him saying, “This is fake news." 

“I genuinely didn’t believe that,” she said. “My best expectation was that I was going to be the first out of the whole Frederick Gunn School, but that’s very different from seeing you’re second for our region. So I was like, ‘That’s definitely fake news.’”

“So much for my teaching,” Bailey joked. “However, she shows good retention of my teaching.”

“He’s a great teacher,” Pan confirmed. “I feel like he’s really passionate about physics in general, and teaching, and he passes well that passion to his students. He does a pretty good job balancing in covering course materials and just doing something fun to keep interest in the subject. It’s just fun enough to keep us engaged.” 

This year, 50 students at The Frederick Gunn School completed the exam, which is offered annually to first and second-year physics students across the United States, Canada, China, and several other Southeast Asian countries. It is sponsored by the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT). For Division 1, Leo You ’22  scored first among all the first-year physics students at The Fredrick Gunn School who took the exam this year, with a score that was one standard deviation above the norm.  Second place at the school went to Yolanda Wang ’21, Bailey said.

Additional Images

pendulum art

Alice Pan '21 (above) said this pendulum art activity from 2018 is one example of how physics teacher Steven Bailey P'09 keeps students engaged.

egg drop

Above and right: Science teacher Steve Bailey P'09 with physics students who participated in an egg drop in 2016.