The Team

We are excited to share a bit more about the 2021 US IOAA team, and share stories of the wonderful people that are helping in various capacities.

The Team:

Abhay Bestrapalli

Abhay - Abhay bestrapalli

I am a rising senior at Delhi Public School Bangalore East in Bangalore, India.
I first became interested in the night sky after reading a few popular science books about the solar system and more in middle school. I began researching about space and was fascinated by how everything worked. I spent a lot of time stargazing and finding constellations. I rediscovered astrophysics, with the math, in high school when preparing for physics competitions. The fact that almost all the physics we learn in high school has an application in astrophysics, from motion to magnetism, captured my interest.
When I saw the questions in the NAO as a junior, I was not able to understand anything. But all the new ideas interested me. I am still trying to catch up and learn the vast science of astronomy.
I am very thankful to the USAAAO and the IOAA for this opportunity to learn and compete and meet new people.
Some other things I do, to various degrees of success, are math olympiads, debates, coding, and math and astronomy tutoring. Outside academics, I like to play table tennis and soccer, read fiction and play the guitar.

Justin Chen

IOAAbioprofile - Justin Chen

I am a junior attending Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, Maryland. As it did to every fifth grader, astronomy caught my eye when I first watched the astronomy documentaries narrated over by the likes of Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Michio Kaku. The oversaturated photographs, hand gestures, and black holes were all I needed to fall down the rabbit hole. Later in middle school I built a telescope from scratch at a local woodshop and used it to view the Moon and stars. After peering through a telescope, my passion for astronomy only grew, and in high school I began to participate in competitions such as the USAAAO and USAPhO. Unfortunately, one downside of my enthusiasm in astronomy has been my habit of interrupting and negging astronomy questions in Science Bowl, a favorite club of mine at Blair.

Outside of school, I enjoy throwing hucks in Ultimate Frisbee, cooking for my friends and family, and attempting to practice the piano and violin. Recently, the addition of two hyperactive kittens to the household has made such activities incredibly more difficult.

Thank you to all the USAAAO coaches who spent their evenings coaching us, and I look forward to competing at the IOAA.

Harsh Deep

IMG_2187 - Harsh Deep

I am a senior at The Harker School in San Jose, California.
My interest in astronomy began during a 7th grade trip to Utah where I was able to observe the Milky Way without the bay area light pollution. Since then, I have been intrigued by the universe’s structure. However, it wasn’t until I joined Science Bowl, that I became interested in applying physics to modelling the world around me. Throughout high school, my love for physics grew through participation in the US physics olympiad competitions as I enjoyed the unique challenge that each problem presented. After hearing about the astronomy and astrophysics olympiad, I was excited to see if I could apply my largely abstract physics knowledge to real astrophysical phenomena. I am extremely thankful for the opportunity to meet so many students and mentors who share my passion for astrophysics and for the opportunity to participate in the IOAA.
Outside of academics, I enjoy playing chess, programming, reading, and eating rocky road ice cream.

Orion Foo

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I am a senior at Poolesville High School in Poolesville, Maryland. Since I was young, I have always been intrigued by astronomy. Maybe my name played a role in that interest, who knows? From the countless instances on starry nights where my friends would exclaim “look guys, that’s Orion!” while smugly pointing at me to the times when I would tell someone my name, and they would immediately respond “oh like the constellation!”, astronomy has always been something that has come up around me.

I was exposed to many STEM competitions throughout middle school which I believe helped me in creating a strong foundation in math and physics. Once in high school, I began to search for other STEM competitions that would provide the same challenge and excitement that the competitions in middle school did. In the summer before 9th grade, I was introduced to the USAAAO series for the first time. I found the stimulating problems on celestial coordinate systems, radiation mechanisms, and orbital maneuvers to be extremely interesting and I greatly desired to learn more. From then on, I threw myself into the world of astrophysics and astronomy. I am glad to say that I can’t wait to represent the US at this year’s IOAA at Boston and I’m very thankful for this opportunity provided by USAAAO.

Outside of astronomy and astrophysics olympiads, I’m a captain of Poolesville High School’s math team, physics team, quiz bowl team, and science bowl team. I am also currently conducting physics/astronomy research regarding the detection of absorption lines in active galactic nuclei-driven outflows. Aside from academics, I competitively play baseball and swim and in my free time, I enjoy watching anime, attempting to play songs from my favorite OSTs on the piano (and failing most of the time), and playing video games.

Aarush Gupta

Aarush - Aarush Gupta

I am currently a senior at Montgomery High School, located in Skillman, NJ.

I first began exploring astronomy after joining my middle school’s Science Olympiad team and preparing for an event named Reach for the Stars. Identifying constellations and learning about stars and galaxies, my interest in the night sky developed rapidly.

At the same time, physics continued to captivate me as I learned about everything from classical mechanics to thermodynamics — the concept of mathematically describing everyday phenomena fascinates me to this day.

It wasn’t until my sophomore year of high school that I truly began to appreciate the connections between astronomy and physics. Studying for the Astronomy event in Science Olympiad, the physics I had previously learned began appearing in everything from stellar evolution to black hole formation. Especially through the USAAAO, my love for two fields I thought were distinct became intertwined into a passion for astrophysics. I’m excited about the opportunity to compete at the IOAA and collaborate with others along the way!

Outside of physics and astrophysics, I enjoy programming and computer science. My non-academic hobbies include playing basketball and tennis, listening to music and singing, playing chess, and more.

Alex Hu

Alex - alex hu

Hi, I’m Alex Hu, a senior at The Harker School in San Jose, California. My main passion throughout high school was math because of its elegance and power. Meanwhile, my passion for astronomy and astrophysics began after reading Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time. I began learning about the universe and the math used to describe it. I am amazed by the big theories governing our universe such as General Relativity and the deep interdisciplinary connections between astronomy and pure math. I took the USAAAO competition for the first time in junior year, and luckily I made the team. I am very thankful for the opportunity to participate in IOAA and to meet and explore astrophysics with so many exceptional peers and mentors! Besides math and astrophysics, I also enjoy running, playing the violin, and playing chess.

William Huang

william huang

Yo, my name is William Huang, and I’m a senior at Lynbrook High School in San Jose, California. I like the greeting “yo” because it’s inclusive, it’s confident, and it’s applicable in so many situations.

Unlike “yo,” astrophysics is often seen as a niche subject, but I love it. Investigating the evolutionary tracks of stars, exploring the formation of galaxies, and working out the mechanics of a binary system are fascinating to me. Every night, we can see a sky full of twinkling little dots, and to me, each one of those stars is an entire world of mysteries to be solved. I’m really glad I stuck with astrofyzix for all these years—starting way back when I would just gaze up at the sky in awe, to when I participated in the GeCAA last year—and I’m looking forward to participating in IOAA again this year!

Outside of astrophysics, I love eating mystery flavored food, skipping leg day at the gym, and playing basketball at my local park.

Joshua Jones

IMG_20210916_155338 - Josh Jones

I am a graduating senior at Langley High School in the DC area.

I’ve always thought that space was cool; as a kid, I enjoyed watching Cosmos and looking up at the night sky. I also love sci-fi (Dune is my personal favorite, super excited for the movie), which has contributed significantly to my love for astronomy, and I’m still hoping for SETI progress.

However, this passing interest didn’t develop into anything substantial until I moved cross-country in the middle of 10th grade to a new, larger school with a Science Olympiad team. When I was introduced to the Astronomy event junior year, I was immediately enthralled – and I’ve been hooked ever since. And when a friend told me about the USAAAO, I was delighted to apply what I’d learned; I have participated in the competition both junior and senior year, and am very grateful for the opportunities that the USAAAO and SciOly have provided me with.

Outside of astronomy and physics, I am interested chemistry, math, robotics, and computer science. I also love running and exploring with my dogs, hiking, rock climbing, reading, and playing pool, ping-pong, and poker with friends.

Erez Israeli Miller

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I am a senior at Bergen County Academies in northern NJ. I’ve loved physics since I was a little kid, and even in elementary school, I knew physics was my passion. I’ve also always loved space: I was the cliché eight-year-old with planet models hanging from the ceiling and a little Soyuz module on my desk I’d fidget with when bored, wondering why the two docking connectors were called “male” and “female”. Despite my love for space, in my free time the only subjects I really self-studied quantum mechanics and cosmology (and some of the calculus and differential equations required to understand them). This changed when I was introduced to USAAAO on the plane to WMTC Korea in sophomore year by a few older friends who’d taken it in past years. After taking the first round on a whim and passing to the second, I decided to look further into astronomy and astrophysics, and became incredibly interested: it was a whole new world of physics that I had never delved into despite being such a space-obsessed elementary-schooler. It feels to me like astronomy and astrophysics work to tie in all my abstract knowledge of QM and cosmology into a concrete science of stars and planets that I can observe myself just by looking out the window at night. After getting a high enough score on the second round last year to train with the IOAA team, I learned enough to make the team itself this year and am very excited to take the test with my friends.
Besides the IOAA, I’m a captain of the BCA math team, I do research in coherent quantum control, and I love to make music, hike and backpack, and game.

Geoffrey Wu

my face better - Geoffrey Wu

I graduated from Naperville North High School and am a freshman at Columbia University in the City of New York.

My interest in astrophysics stemmed from my involvement with math and physics—I competed in MATHCOUNTS in middle school and was the 2nd place individual in the written round; I earned a silver medal in the USA Physics Olympiad and qualified for the USA Mathematics Olympiad (3 times). I also did astronomy in Science Olympiad and studied it for Science Bowl, and it was from there that I gained much of my background and interest in astronomy. I’m really excited to compete in 2021 IOAA and meet my teammates!

Beyond astronomy, I love programming, playing chess, running, watching football and basketball, solving mini crosswords, and just talking with people.


Team Leaders

Katarine Emanuela Klitzke

Image from iOS

Hi everyone, my name is Katarine, I am 19 years old, I was born in Timbó, a very small city in south Brazil and currently I am an undergrad student in computer engineering and astrophysics at Georgia Tech.  

 In my 6th grade I started participating in math competitions and loved this world of olympiads. Being frequently challenged by problems and ideas trying to find a solution and reaching new knowledge, created a new passion in my life. From my 6th to 12th grade I participated in many different competitions (math, physics, biology, chemistry, science, logic, geography, informatic, robotics,linguistics …), however, it was the astronomy one that I enjoyed studying the most. During my 12th grade I had the opportunity to represent Brazil at international olympiads on astronomy, astrophysics and aeronautics.  Besides all the knowledge, the science olympiads gave me amazing friendships and good memories.

Since I graduated from high school, I have continued to get involved with astronomy. I am volunteering at both USAAAO and the Brazilian Astronomy and Astronautics Olympiad, and  developing my own research project in computational cosmology.

Evan Tey


I’m originally from Texas and now work at MIT as a research software engineer for TESS.

In high school, I was part of the 2nd US IOAA team (in 2014), and I’ve been helping out with the USAAAO ever since.

Outside of work, I enjoy teaching, playing soccer, and making / eating large amounts of food.


Coaching Team:

Besides the team leaders, we have several other coaches that help with training. Here are some of their stories.

Natasa Dragovic


I am a Norbert Wiener Assistant Professor at Tufts University. I got my PhD in mathematics from University of Texas at Austin in 2020. I was one of the team leaders and coaches of the team USA at IOAA in 2018 and 2019. I was born and raised in Serbia, and later I came for college to MIT where I studied math.

During middle school and high school, I competed for Serbia at four International Astronomy Olympiads (IAO) and one International Astronomy and Astrophysics Olympiad (IOAA). A big part of success of our team was due to many teachers that helped us prepare. In particular, a retired physics teacher, prof. Ratomirka Miler, gave a lot of her time and was the major driving force. I hope that I can pass on some of the knowledge I gained then to the team.

I think that science olympiads are great for students to learn more advanced curriculum at young age, meet people from all over the world with similar interests and make lasting friendships.

Despite not studying astronomy any more, I enjoy being involved with the competition and helping students prepare. Besides USAAAO, I was involved in organizing the Directed Reading Program at UT Austin. We would pair undergraduate students that are passionate about math related topics with a graduate student in order to read a book during a semester and learn a new topic (

Lucas Pinheiro


My name is Lucas, I am 19 years old, and I was born and raised in Marília, a small city in Brazil. Currently, I am studying electrical engineering at the University of Notre Dame.

When I was in the 9th grade, I started participating in science competitions. I absolutely loved participating in these competitions, and they eventually became my main extracurricular activity. I enjoyed spending many hours trying to solve difficult problems. It was extremely satisfying to understand complex concepts or to get the right answer for a hard question after struggling for a lot of time. Although I participated in competitions related to many subjects, such as physics, math, chemistry, and robotics, I focused more on astronomy and astrophysics. In 2018, I was part of the team that represented Brazil in the International Olympiad on Astronomy and Astrophysics (IOAA), which was one of the best experiences of my life. I got a bronze medal on IOAA.

Even after I graduated from high school, I remained involved with astronomy and with science competitions. I am volunteering at both USAAAO and the Brazilian Astronomy and Astronautics Olympiad. I am also doing research in astrophysics. My
research project involves low-metallicity stars and data analysis.

Thaddeus Komacek 

Thaddeus Komacek
University of Arizona, Tucson

Tad is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Chicago whose research focuses on exoplanet atmospheres. Tad was the 2013 team leader and has been helping organize and coach the US Astronomy Team yearly since then.

Sandesh Kalantre


Hey folks! I am a PhD student in physics at the University of Maryland – College Park and am one of the team leaders for team USA at IOAA 2020. I grew up in India and obtained my bachelors in Engineering Physics from IIT Bombay in India. 

I picked up an acute interest in science in my middle and high school years and have never looked back since. I participated in astronomy olympiads representing India and went to the International Astronomy Olympiad (IAO) in 2011 and International Olympiad on Astronomy and Astrophysics (IOAA) in 2012 and 2013. Participating in the olympiads introduced me to the possibility of pursuing a career in science and it was instrumental in connecting me to a wide network of people for research and career advice. I felt at home being in the presence of similar minded people at my age during the olympiads and some of those friendships stayed over the years. In my opinion, every young person should be free to pursue science that they like as a career, and the olympiads are conducive in providing a path forward. Wanting to give back, I was involved with selection and training of the Indian team from 2015-2018, and after starting my graduate studies in the US, have been part of the USAAAO organization. 

When not doing research at super-low temperatures or designing intriguing problems in astronomy and astrophysics, you can find me heading out for a long bike ride, enjoying a good book or scratching out a pleasant tune on my violin.

Sahil Pontula


I was first exposed to astronomy in elementary school at an outdoor observing session with the Raleigh Astronomy Club. Since then, I have been drawn to exploring the universe through astrophysics, an interest that has been compounded by competitions such as Science Olympiad and NAO/IOAA. Diverse math and science programs such as RSI have exposed me to an international, collaborative community that I aspire to be a part of as I begin the next part of my educational journey at MIT in the fall. From reading about recent research towards a successful theory of quantum gravity to starting a hobby in astrophotography, my passion for astrophysics stays with me, and I look forward to continue sharing this passion with the USAAAO community as a volunteer.

Vlad Rosca

Nima Chartab Soltani

Other Volunteers:

A lot goes into organizing USAAAO besides the trainings and we would not be able to function without our amazing volunteers. 

Ioana Zelko: Chairperson 

I am a PhD researcher in astrophysics at Harvard University. I am originally from Romania, and I came to the USA in college to pursue a physics degree at MIT. During my time in high school in Romania, I participated in many international science competitions, like IPhO, IOA, IJSO, and most importantly, two editions of the International Olympiad of Astronomy and Astrophysics. The olympiads meant a lot to me, on personal and professional level. They gave me the chance to pursue a rigorous training in science, and to connect with many peers with similar interests. Eventually, they ended up informing my career choice.
I find passion in teaching and learning, and I appreciate the chance of doing both of them at the side of the USA national astronomy and astrophysics olympiad team, as a coach and team leader. Organizing the selection and training the team is a hard but rewarding process.
In my day to day life I spend time working on research, and a couple of other projects. During my time at MIT, my research focused on building a interferometer telescope. You can see a video of the result here Now, during my PhD, I am looking at interstellar dust. Aside from research, together with three friends, I started the project PhysicsDen (, a website that hosts physics problems related to published research, in attempt to bridge the gap between class material and research. Check us out!