The Team

Abhay Bestrapalli


abhaypic - Abhay bestrapalli

I graduated from Delhi Public School, Bangalore East and will be attending the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the fall.

Ever since I fell down the rabbit hole of astronomy in middle school, I have loved sitting under the night sky and observing the stars, and reading books and discovering new crazy facts about space. The fact that almost all the physics we learn in high school has an application in astrophysics, from motion to fluid dynamics to magnetism, captured my interest. I am still trying to catch up and learn the vast science of astrophysics, learning new things about the universe every day.

When I first saw the questions in the NAO as a junior, I was not able to understand much of what was written- the variables, the jargon, the questions. But all the new ideas interested me and I started learning one thing at a time.

I was able to participate in the IOAA last year and it was one of the best experiences of my life so far. I am very grateful to the USAAAO and the IOAA for this opportunity to learn and meet new people again and to all the instructors for their effort!

Some other things I do, to various degrees of success, are math olympiads, coding, and math and astronomy tutoring. Outside academics, I like to play table tennis and soccer, read and write fiction and play the guitar.

Andrew Liu

ioaa_headshot - Andrew Liu

Hi, my name is Andrew Liu and I’m a recently graduated senior from Adlai E. Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, Illinois. In the fall, I’ll be a freshman at MIT.

As someone born in rural Iowa, the stars have always been very much a part of my upbringing. A clear night sky is as powerfully cathartic as it is mysterious, and stargazing with my family growing up would always fill me with awe, curiosity, and insignificance.

Once I moved to Chicago, while these clear night skies unfortunately disappeared, it was through my involvement with my school’s math and physics clubs that my passion for both fields began to grow. The technical knowledge that I learned allowed me to truly appreciate the beauty of the laws governing the cosmos.

In 2020, I was lucky to score high enough for the privilege of training with the IOAA team. Now, I am excited for the chance to be on the team myself and to compete in-person. I’m extremely grateful to the USAAAO for this opportunity!

In my free time, I enjoy playing the violin, solving Rubik’s cubes, and playing high-stakes card games with my statistics teacher.

Arjun Patel

60815533_i1uwg6jl2s - Arjun Patel

Heyo! I am a graduating senior from Troy High School in Fullerton, CA, and I plan on attending Boston University in the fall.

My interest in astronomy began in 9th grade when I tried out for my school’s Science Olympiad team. This interest soon grew into a love for the subject, and I enjoyed exploring the intricacies of the properties of different stars and galaxies as well as the underlying calculations which provided me with greater insight. When I heard about the USAAAO, I knew I had to try out, and I’ve really enjoyed the challenge that these problems have provided me with. To me, solving the mysteries of each problem is like finally cracking the code to a satisfying puzzle, and I constantly enjoy the thrill of learning something new. In a more general sense, I’ve also really enjoyed how astronomy has provided me with a new layer of understanding of the fascinating, twinkling night sky, and I always find it fun to share the knowledge I have acquired about this infinitely interesting realm with others.

Beyond astronomy, I enjoy chemistry, running, geology, spending time with others, and traveling.

Austin Chen

IMG_7183 - Austin Chen

Hello! I’m Austin, a rising senior at Lubbock High School.

I first began studying Astronomy for my high school Science Bowl in my freshman year. There, I met one of the people most influential to my high school academics, previous IOAA competitor Joe McCarty. Joe coached and fostered my passion for Physics and Astronomy which helped me get to where I am today.

Despite some lackluster stereotypes, Astronomy is a stellar subject to study, pun intended. It has beautiful, breathtakingly vast galaxies and star systems governed by simple orbital Newtonian physics, yet has subtle complexities with dark energy, general relativity, stellar evolution, and many, many more fascinating topics. Studying Astronomy is like unraveling the many little mysteries that the universe holds – I find that enthralling. This summer, I am excited to go to and share an experience at the IOAA with the USAAAO team.

Outside of Astronomy, I enjoy studying Physics, Math, and Computer Science. Outside of academics, my hobbies include practicing 40 hours of cello, guitar, and piano, striking 12 times, running on 11 windows, jamming to voweled K-artist 10 song grouping, getting flamed by 9 champions, attending 8 classes every day, speed-drinking 7 milk cartons, guessing 6 words to completion, betting on the outcome of 5 cards, translating and rotating sets of 4 connected squares, placing and breaking virtual 3-dimensional blocks, dueling with 2 color contrasting kings, and outfitting 1 person.

David Zhang

F9289444-5BDF-46EC-B205-929FE80F3C8E - David Zhang

Hey! My name is David Zhang. I’m a rising senior at Mason High School.

I first got interested in astronomy at a very young age. Books and documentaries about the solar system and galaxies enticed me to the mysteries of the universe. How can we know so much about an abyss so vast? I visited a lot of space museums and watched hours of space related content.

Fast forward to high school, I really got to develop that interest for astronomy more seriously because of Science Olympiad. I still regularly compete for that, but I also stumbled across USAAAO sophomore year. I found it to be a lot of fun and studied for it a lot with my friends. USAAAO really showed me the complex physics and math behind astronomy, and just how much is in the field.

In my free time, I like spending time with my friends, doing summer programs (and struggling to read txt files in python), playing Minecraft, playing piano, and binging YouTube.

Erez Israelli Miller

Untitled - Erez Israeli Miller

I just graduated from Bergen County Academies in northern NJ, and I’ll be a freshman at MIT this coming fall. 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. This changed when I was introduced to USAAAO on the plane to WMTC Korea in sophomore year by a few older friends. After taking the first round on a whim, 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. This is my second year attending IOAA, and I’m looking forward to the international experience!

Besides IOAA, I enjoy working on hobby projects and cybersecurity CTFs with my friends, I do research in coherent quantum control, and I love to make music, backpack, watch anime, and game.

Evan Kim

bio_photo_square - Evan Kim

I am a rising senior at Tesla STEM High School in Redmond, Washington. As a child (when I lived in San Diego), my favorite places to go to on the weekends were Legoland and the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center–Legoland for Miniland and the Science Center for its planetarium. I remember leaning back in the comfy blue chairs and being in awe of all the different constellations (seriously though, how did they see those shapes out of those seemingly randomly scattered dots??). Because of the planetarium, throughout elementary and middle school I would try my best to observe the night sky: finding constellations during camping trips, waking up at 3 am to see the lunar eclipse, or building a pinhole projector out of a cereal box to view the Great American Eclipse.

During high school I drifted away from astronomy a bit and began studying physics a bit more. But through the Scioly Astronomy event and the USAAAO I was able to come back to the night sky, but now through the lens of physics to hopefully understand it quantitatively rather than just observing it. I’ve been able to learn about the geometry of the way objects move in our sky, how the JWST looks back in time, and much more, and it has all been super fascinating.

Outside of physics and astronomy I also enjoy doing puzzles (Wordle, sliding tiles, Rubik’s cubes, etc.), playing basketball and spikeball, consuming boba, and leaning over the “concrete slab” at our school to play ping pong when the actual table is too full.

Justin Chen

Justin-Chen-photo_1 - Justin Chen

Hey! I’m a rising senior at Montgomery Blair High School in Maryland. I play Ultimate Frisbee and enjoy watching all kinds of movies.

Although a senior citizen, I have surprisingly few “back when I was a kid” stories to tell about my pursuit of in-depth astronomy. Before high school, I would do almost anything instead of reading a textbook (a normal choice for everyone, I hope). Even on the occasion when I flipped through a page describing something like supernovae, I was only impressed by the pictures momentarily, and soon moved on to the next page. Maybe it was because the universe and all that were within it were so intangible to me that I never bothered to consider why they were worth learning about.

Another reason for the absence of astronomy stories is that there was no singular event that changed my entire view on space; instead my interest developed slowly through clubs like Science Olympiad. Reaching high school, I finally ate my first textbook thanks to the captain of the Science Bowl team who believed in me and picked me for the team as an astronomy player. Since then, astronomy has become one of my biggest passions. This summer, I am conducting research through the modeling of sub-Neptune exoplanet atmospheres that will hopefully aid JWST in its analysis of far away exoplanets.

I would like to give my appreciation to all the coaches who help run USAAAO and who spend their nights coaching the team. None of this would be possible without your time and dedication. I look forward to meeting everyone at the IOAA, and if all goes well, maybe I will finally get a cool story to tell…

Orion Foo

OrionIOAAPhoto - Orion Foo

Hey, I’m Orion, and this fall I will be a freshman at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology planning on studying physics and math. 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 and instantly fell in love with astrophysics and astronomy. Last year, I was fortunate enough to represent the US in IOAA 2021 In Boston and it was one of the best experiences of my life (SCRAV CRPAB HAAAA RXNS!). I am glad to say that I can’t wait to represent the US at this year’s IOAA in Georgia and I’m very thankful for this opportunity provided by USAAAO.

Beyond academics, I love to play baseball, swim, watch anime, listen to music, utterly destroy my friends in GamePigeon 8Ball/Archery, and of course, spend time with our family’s new kitten.

Samvit Das

IMG_1311 - Samvit Das

Hey, I’m Samvit, a senior at William Mason High School in Ohio.

‘Space’ is a particularly captivating field of study for most six-year-olds, so it’s no wonder I’ve been doodling rocket ships in my notebooks since 2011. Anything surrounded by a backdrop of stars was a magnet, from Star Wars to Neil DeGrasse Tyson to the same ‘Hubble Space Telescope’ I watched (and enjoyed) about a million times at the Cincinnati Museum.

Fascination eventually became study, albeit a bit after 2011. Middle school Science Olympiad first injected an excitement into learning physics outside of class. As I continued to compete alongside like-minded friends into high school SciOly, I dipped my toes into the unbounded ocean of knowledge that is Astrophysics. I’ve been hooked ever since, and I’m sure my six-year-old self would be proud – I can’t wait to compete at the IOAA this year!

Outside of astrophysics, I enjoy reading, biking, and playing the cello.