Making history at the International Olympiad in Astronomy and Astrophysics


Over three hundred students from forty-six countries competed in the 13th International Astronomy and Astrophysics Olympiad in Hungary, from August 2nd through 10th. The American team achieved its best result since its first participation eight years ago, with eight medals, honorable mention and best poster.

Main team:

Joseph McCarty (Lubbock High School, TX) – gold medal
Vincent Bian (Poolesville High School, MD) –gold medal and best data analysis
Albert Qin (Mira Loma High School, CA) – bronze medal
Daniel Chang (North Hollywood High School, CA) – bronze medal
Anthony Ou (Carmel High School, IN) – bronze medal

Guest team:

April Cheng (Canyon Crest Academy, CA) – silver medal
Sean Chen (Canyon Crest Academy, CA) –bronze medal
Dean Zhou (Clear Lake High School, TX) – honorable mention
Devin Hoover (Poolesville High School, MD) – best poster
Leo Yao (West Windsor Plainsboro High School North, NJ) –silver medal

Team Leaders: Ioana Zelko (Harvard University) and Natasa Dragovic (University of Texas at Austin)

These achievements are all the more remarkable considering that the USA team never meets in person before the IOAA. Training was conducted by volunteer mentors through video calls with the team members.

The USA team was selected by volunteer members of the USAAAO (USA Astronomy and Astrophysics Organization) based on candidates’ results in a selection exam. The next IOAA will take place in Colombia in September 2020

The USAAAO team is entirely self-funded and does not receive any support from the United States government.

A bit about the history of the USAAAO:

Founded in 2013, the USAAAO started as a group of six high school students who were interested in astronomy and astrophysics. They had heard about the Physics and Chemistry Olympiads that currently existed to foster students’ interest in the sciences. When they learned that there was an international-level astronomy Olympiad, and that more surprisingly, the US did not participate, they wanted to change that. They came into contact with each other via email, and collaborated to form the USAAAO.

That year, they took the initiative of forming a team to represent the USA at the 7th International Olympiad on Astronomy and Astrophysics. Receiving two individual honorable mentions and 11th place in the team competition, they returned and began preparation to establish a national selection procedure for future teams.