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  • Physics Team Earns International Honors
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  • Physics Team Earns International Honors

    Students win bronze in global competition

    Brittany Dunnigan

    The principles of thermodynamics and planetary sciences can be intimidating to the average American. But three MSUM physics students find these principles more intriguing than intimidating, which led to their success in a global physics competition.

    Meredith McLinn, physics junior, Pragalv Karki, recent physics graduate, and Shouvik Bhattacharya, physics senior, formed the team representing MSUM in the University Physics Competition in November. Dr. Juan Cabanela was their advisor.

    “Both Shouvik (Bhattacharya) and I competed in the competition last year, but we figured we would give it one more shot since Shouvik is graduating this year,” McLinn said. “This time we knew what to expect and were much more organized. That made a huge difference.”

    The University Physics Competition is an international contest for undergraduate students. The students work in teams of three at their home colleges and universities and spend 48 hours analyzing a real-world scenario using the principles of physics. The final product is a formal research paper describing their work.  

    The MSUM team received a bronze medal for their formal research paper after 48 hours of intense research, analyses and experiments. One gold, four silver, and seven bronze medals were awarded to 12 of the 24 teams from around the world that participated in the competition. The three MSUM students were one of only two teams from the United States to receive a medal.

    “We were not allowed to use any living sources whatsoever, only credible, non-human sources. The problems we had to choose from were so open-ended that it would have been easy to spend the majority of the time on unimportant aspects rather than on the subject in its entirety,” McLinn said. “We tried to simplify the problem so it would be easily comprehendible. That was both the fun and challenging part of the process.”

    The team’s research focused on volcanism on super-earths. They used databases, books and computer models of hypothetical situations to arrive at a conclusion.

    After two full days working together, and 18 hours in the same room without a break, the students proudly submitted their work. After the results were posted, they enjoyed reading other teams’ submissions, as each paper had a completely different approach to the same problem. The team agreed this aspect of the competition also helped them learn and grow from the overall experience.

    “This competition is a great resume builder. To be able to put that we placed in an international competition on a resume for a future employer or on an application for graduate school is incredible and will set us apart from other applicants,” said Bhattacharya, who plans to attend graduate school for astrophysics in the fall.

    Bhattacharya and McLinn credit their success to their MSUM education. “The opportunities we have here for hands-on learning and experimenting are incredible. The professors are so accommodating and yet so driven to really reach out to students. We enjoyed this competition because we were very prepared thanks to the classes we’ve taken,” Bhattacharya said.

    For more information about the physics and astronomy programs at MSUM, visit the department’s webpage at For more information about the University Physics Competition, visit