Aussie teen wins gold medal at International Physics Olympiad

First gold medal in physics for Australia in 12 years

Hugo McCahon-Boersma, a Year 12 student from Sydney Grammar School, has won a gold medal at the International Physics Olympiad in Lisbon, Portugal, ending a 12-year gold drought for Australia at the prestigious physics competition.

Hugo competed against more than 400 students from 87 countries, finishing in the top 10 per cent of physics high school students in the world.

“The International Physics Olympiad is designed to challenge even the most capable science students, and it takes a lot of hard work to develop the capabilities and understanding of physics to win a gold medal,” says Siobhan Tobin, Physics Deputy Director, Australian Science Olympiads program.

“Our students, Hugo in particular, had to draw upon their ability to interpret unfamiliar scientific phenomena using physics principles they learned and problem-solving skills they honed at intensive training camps,” says Tobin.

It is only the seventh time an Australian student has won gold in 31 years of competition at the UNESCO-sanctioned International Physics Olympiad, which is widely recognised as the toughest physics competition for high school students in the world.

The competition involved a five-hour theory exam, covering the topics of how black holes lead to gravitational waves, particle physics at the Large Hadron Collider, and the biophysics of a growing tumour. The students also sat a five-hour practical exam, investigating the viscoelastic properties of a polymer thread, and determining different characteristics of transistors from an electronic circuit printed on paper.

“Hugo’s achievement is testament to our young Science Olympians’ hard work, and the Australian Science Olympiads program’s ability to nurture Australia’s top science students,” says Ruth Carr, Executive Director of Australian Science Innovations.

“This result also highlights Australia’s capabilities in physics on the world stage as we gear up to host the 20th Asian Physics Olympiad in Adelaide next May,” says Carr.

Hugo was part of a five-member team representing Australia at this year’s International Physics Olympiad in Lisbon. The four other students selected to compete achieved two bronze medals and two honourable mentions.

The students spent a year in exams and intensive training before competing on the international stage. Australian students have also travelled to Iran for the International Biology Olympiad, Slovakia and Czech Republic for the International Chemistry Olympiad, and a team will head to Thailand for the International Earth Science Olympiad from 8 to 17 August.

The Australian Science Olympiads program is run by Australian Science Innovations and is funded through the Australian Government’s National Innovation and Science Agenda, with support from the Australian National University.


Debra Maynard on 0407 299 007 or 02 9665 7182, or

Yelena Ramli on 02 6125 6282.