FREYLA FERGUSON meets a young man with a prize-winning flair for physics
PHYSICS Olympian Tom Pearson isn’t your regular science geek.
The 18-year-old Burgmann Anglican School student, whose hobbies include surfing and snowboarding, has recently claimed a bronze medal in physics at the International Science Olympiads.
After a gruelling three weeks training with mentor Shane Barrett, Tom travelled to Thailand with a team of Australia’s top five secondary students in physics to compete in the international competition.
Tom says the competition was in two parts – experimental and theoretical – both five hours long.
“The experimental side, is like levitating magnetic rings,” Tom said with a laugh. “I’ve kind of blocked it out of my memory, it was kinda traumatic.
“The theoretical side, you have three problems, you are given problems and you have to work it out.
“So its basically the person who can think about it and actually work out what’s going on and get the answer.”
The International Science Olympiads is an annual competition for secondary students from more than 100 countries. It is divided into three areas – biology, physics and chemistry.
“Put it this way, I never expected to meet people from Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, Ethiopia,” he said. “The good thing is we were there for 10 days, and the competition was held over the first three or four days, so you’ve got a week to spend not hating each other because they were beating you or whatever.
“There is a social aspect as well, where they try and bring the world’s leading scientists together and world co-operation.”
He said he was surprised to win the bronze medal.
“I felt surprised, happy,” he said. “I would have been happy with an honorable mention, that’s what I was shooting for, aiming for, hoping for.
“There is a sense of satisfaction from solving problems.”
Tom, whose parents are both Oxford University graduates, said he had “always been really good” at science.
“Then I did a test and I did really well and suddenly this whole world opened up,” he said. “I had no idea I was this smart.
“I lived in England for three years and bumbled along and did alright.
“Then I came here and I topped the classes – and I thought: ‘That’s a good feeling’, I can actually work at this.
“Last year there was a test, it was like an entry exam, I got a call two months later saying I was top 24 in Australia and I was like: ‘What!?’; it kinda blew my mind.”
Tom hopes to study medicine at the University of Sydney next year.
“It’ll be challenging, it’ll be enjoyable, I get to help people, fix people, pays a lot of money – you were waiting for that one weren’t you?” Tom says.
Burgmann Anglican School chemistry teacher Rosemary Waters spoke highly of, not only Tom’s academic achievements, but strength of character.
“The other lovely part of him is he mentors the other kids,” she said.
“He has generosity of spirit – he’s humble.”