Paris-Sud students excel during a tournament between physicists


On 9 and 10 February, 10 students from the M1 of the Magisters’ Degree in Fundamental Physics took part in “physics fights” during the public debates in English as part of the French Physicists’ Tournament. For their second appearance, the Université Paris Sud team, competing against 11 teams from other universities or graduate schools, finished in third place!

The entire Paris-Sud team at the awards ceremony. Photo credit: Lorenzo Perisse, FPT 2018

Physics debates and problems to solve

The French Physicists’ Tournament is an annual meeting organised by the Youth Committee of the French Physical Society, supported by the Ministry of Higher Education and Research and sponsored by the Academy of Sciences.

Sullivan Marafico, Albertine Oudin, Florian Mercier, Baptiste Baudin, Bayane Michotte De Welle, Benjamin Niopel, Guillaume Bogopolsky, Gaetan Hercé, Guillaume Dréau, and Pierre Gourbin, students in the Magister’s Degree in Fundamental Physics at Université Paris-Sud, worked for several months on a series of 11 open problems: why do drops of water drop back onto car side windows, how to make a loudspeaker without moving parts, why does a jet of water make spirals, how to manufacture a calculator with food colouring, and other problems.

Paris-Sud team with preparations in full swing during the meeting with Université Paris Diderot. Photo credit: Jean-Marie Fischbach, Université Paris-Sud.

A great training tool

For the first time in their education, these students have had to answer questions which have no obvious solution and which there is no single correct answer to. They have worked independently in groups and have learnt to organise, share tasks, work together, trust each other, and withstand the pressure of a competition! The students have had to work on ten different problems in physics at the same time, with literature searches, experimental and theoretical studies, in areas as varied as plasma physics or fluid mechanics.

The students were able to be fully involved in this project due to support from the fundamental physics stream, which recognised the educational value of this competition and freed up time for the students by giving them several days of practical work, while providing the team with technical and scientific support.

Presentation of the simulated movement of a nut in a balloon: there are three characteristic frequencies which appear: creating a very unpleasant noise! Photo credit: Jean-Marie Fischbach, Université Paris-Sud.

A final and an impressive third place!

The tournament on 9 and 10 February was the culmination of all this work. Two by two, the teams opposed each other in the form of debates, entirely in English. The principle is simple: a spokesperson from each team presents their answer to one of the problems; the opposing team then criticises this presentation and the discussion begins. A jury made up of PhD students, researchers and lecturers questions the speakers before assigning grades. The roles are then changed over and a second round starts.

After four “physics fights”, the Université Paris-Sud team finished in an impressive third place behind the École Polytechnique and École normale supérieure-Université de Lyon graduate schools. The winning team qualified for the international final which will take place in Moscow in April.

The days have led to an exchange of ideas, arguments and discussions about physics. They were an opportunity for the Paris-Sud team to meet other young physicists from all over France.

Magister degree in Fundamental Physics at Orsay

It is a course in the latest theoretical developments, which enables an understanding of analytical research methods and an adaptability to the various problems encountered in a scientific and technical career. Extensive courses in IT, languages, economics and management complement a broad range of more traditional teaching in areas of fundamental physics.

This thorough and extensive course in physics for a period of three years is for good first and second year undergraduate students and those in preparatory courses for graduate school. It is a high-level university course focused, on the one hand, on research with laboratory internships in the first year of the Magister (3rd year of Bachelors’ degree) and in the third year of the Magister (Masters’ 2nd year), and on the other hand, on the business world with company internships in the second year of the Magisters’ degree. This course includes the national degrees of Bachelor and Master of Fundamental Physics.


To find out more

The website of the French section of the International Physicists' Tournament
Contact: frederic.bouquet @