The Team

Main Team:

Vincent Bian

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I am a senior at Poolesville High School, in Poolesville, Maryland.

In preschool, every picture I drew was of the nine planets (yes, Pluto was still a planet back then). Later, this obsession took a backseat to my other interests, but I was always fascinated with space. I still remember the rocket launch I watched at Cape Canaveral, and the livestream of New Horizons as it approached Pluto. Since then, I’ve watched every rocket launch that I could.

Throughout middle and high school, I had math, and then physics, as my “main” subjects. I must have spent hundreds of hours preparing for math competitions. My math skills made learning physics a lot easier, and I spend more hundreds of hours preparing for physics competitions, which gave me a huge head start on astrophysics. Despite this, I might have forgotten about astronomy, if not for a friend of mine, to whom I am deeply grateful. He persuaded me to take USAAAO in junior year, which led to me making the IOAA team, and more importantly, reminded me how awesome space is. I am also grateful for the opportunity to be on the team, which helped me rediscover my love of astronomy.

In the future, I want to work in a STEM field, and solve cool problems with cool people.

Joseph McCarty

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 I am a senior at Lubbock High School in Lubbock, Texas. I’ve been interested in astronomy and physics since my first exposure to them in 4th grade, but I didn’t realize how satisfying they could be until my mathematical understanding increased as I went into high school. Over the years since, I have been inspired to learn as much as I can on my own by the depth and significance of the questions answered by astronomy and physics. For that reason, I find cosmology particularly fascinating because it seeks to answer questions about the fundamental nature and history of the universe, but I also enjoy pretty much every other aspect of astronomy. One thing this competition has exposed me to much more is stargazing, and I just recently realized how close I live to incredible dark skies. Stargazing is a hobby I hope to pursue after high school as well. In the future, I hope to keep learning more and eventually have a career in some field of physics. Outside of astronomy, I enjoy doing math, playing cello, hiking, playing soccer, and reading Wikipedia articles with little relevance to anything else.

Albert Qin

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I’m Albert, a junior at Mira Loma High School in Sacramento, California.

Like many of my fellow team members, I’ve been interested in astronomy from a very young age. I remember my dad telling me how everything in space – from our own sun, to galaxies, to the universe itself, had “lives” – where they would be born, live, and then eventually die (I thought it was especially cool how certain stars could blow up at the end of their lives).

In high school, I found myself putting more and more time into physics – however – I always studied a bit of astronomy on the side for my school’s science bowl team. I originally took USAAAO for fun, thinking I probably wouldn’t even make it past the first stage, and found myself on the IOAA team. Since then, IOAA has renewed my interest in astronomy as I’ve been able to apply my physics skills to mathematically understand the phenomena of the universe. I’m really grateful to be on the team, and I look forward to competing at IOAA!

Anthony Ou

Daniel Chang

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I just graduated from the Highly Gifted Magnet at North Hollywood High School. and will be starting school at Yale this fall. I first took interest in astronomy during my freshman year in our school’s Science Olympiad team. Although I was frankly atrocious at astronomy in my first year, I stuck to it for the sake of my curiosity and stubbornness. I distinctly remember one day when I spent hours tackling problems that should have taken minutes. But when I finally arrived at the solution via long physics equations to explain astrophysical phenomena so magical yet explicable, I was in awe. It was as if the universe was a grand engineer who sprinkled miracles throughout itself for astrophysicists to interpret using the most exotic concepts in physics and the grandest computer simulations.

Since then, I have co-founded my school’s Planetary Society club, won first in Astronomy in numerous Science Olympiad competitions, and become a part of USA’s IOAA team.

And at Yale, I wish to further pursue my interest while helping coordinate its Science Olympiad competition and following my other passions in playing video games, researching about climate change, and drinking all the soda in the world.

Guest Team:

April Cheng

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I am a senior at Canyon Crest Academy, in San Diego, California. I am 17 years old. I’ve been interested in the cosmos since before I even went to school. Starting from space-related picture books, moving on to kids’ astronomy books, and finally to more advanced texts and documentaries, I was curious about astronomy all throughout my childhood to the present. My middle school’s Science Olympiad program was my first insight on the more astrophysical side of astronomy. My success in Science Olympiad gave me the first motivation to compete in this area, and I first participated in USAAAO in my freshman year, and finally qualified to the international team in my sophomore year. I hope to learn more about astronomy and astrophysics throughout high school. In the future, I want to do research in astronomy or astrophysics, as I wanted to since elementary school. I am immensely thankful to the Science Olympiad program, of which I am currently an organizer and a coach for my school, for sparking my interest into a passion, and also to the USAAAO and IOAA for giving me an opportunity to compete.

Outside of school, I love playing video games, reading, and watching TV shows. I also love ice cream regardless of the season.

Dean Zhou

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I have just graduated from Clear Lake High School, in Houston, Texas, and I will be attending Stanford University in the fall. I have grown up close to Space Center Houston for most of my life knowing several classmates whose parents work for NASA, as well as a couple children of astronauts.

Regardless of where I’ve grown up, however, I think I would still have been driven to study the stars. The very nature of the vastness of space that surrounds us would have led me to discover this passion, no matter my location of time period.

Ever since I could look up at the sky, I’ve persisted in dreaming big, to understand the cosmos that surrounds us. Of course, I had to participate in and practice for math, physics, and computer science competitions, but all of these skills were just stepping stones in my astrophysics journey.

Being a part of the IOAA team is an incredible opportunity and has played a major role in my aspirations to pursue a career in space. Outside of academics, I like to play a variety of sports, read books, and play board/card games.

 

Devin Hoover

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I recently graduated from the Science/Math/Computer Science program at Poolesville High School, and I will attend the University of Chicago in the fall. Ever since the age of 2, I was absolutely fascinated by the subjects of astronomy and astrophysics. As an elementary school student, I would memorize the names of all the planets and moons in our solar system, and I would regularly visit the Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. In addition, I always fantasized about becoming an astronaut. I remember a time during 3rd grade in which I bested multiple high school students in a NASA trivia competition.

In high school, I engaged in numerous competitions in all STEM subjects, but I still retained my lifelong passion for astronomy and astrophysics. I fulfilled my dream of engaging in astronomical research when I worked at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. During my internship, I analyzed meteor data from a southern hemisphere radar telescope and identified meteor showers from that data. This summer, I will develop a program that till utilize machine learning to identify bolides. I also received second place multiple times in the Astronomy event in the Maryland Science Olympiad, and I recently became a member of the National Capital Astronomers as part of a science fair award. I have participated in USAAAO for three years, but this is my first time qualifying for the IOAA. 

Outside of STEM activities, some of my favorite subjects to study include Sumerian grammar (it’s more interesting than you think), Ottoman history (janissaries are awesome), the French Revolution/Napoleonic Wars (Vive la revolution!), and black-and-white cartoons (Flip the Frog is my favorite). I also enjoy playing video games such as Kerbal Space Program and Civilization V and VI.

In the future, I plan to write a book about the Tanzimat Period in the Ottoman Empire and to create a podcast about early Muslim expansion. Furthermore, I hope to ulitize my knowledge of orbital mechanics to develop trajectories for NASA spacecraft. 

Sean Chen

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I am a rising senior at Canyon Crest Academy in San Diego, California. I’ve been interested in science since 5th grade, and my interest in physics and astrophysics was sparked by various science competitions in middle school. I was introduced to astronomy and astrophysics in Science Olympiad, and was exposed to physics in Science Bowl. Competitions in STEM throughout high school have given me many exciting and stimulating experiences and struggles, and I’m very thankful for USAAAO and IOAA for providing this great opportunity! I’m looking forward to learning more about astronomy and astrophysics and meeting everyone there!
I enjoy playing table tennis and badminton, and one of my favorite activities at school is competitively playing card games like fish. Watching/reading detective conan (and other anime/manga) is another activity I like, however my academic pursuits have led me to worry that the time I spend mentioning anime is going to exceed the amount of time I actually spend watching anime. Other hobbies include “magic” tricks, watching youtube, eating all kinds of (good) food, and facebook messenger games.

Leo Yao

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I am a rising junior at West Windsor-Plainsboro High School North, currently 15 years of age.

My first encounter with physics came at the beginning of 6th grade. By some stroke of luck, I was accepted onto the middle school Science Olympiad team, and I found myself increasingly entangled within the worlds of both math and science since then, fortuitously making the USAJMO in 7th grade, and suddenly vaulted onto the national stage for Science Olympiad in the same year, most likely due to the mindset that our Science Olympiad program instilled. However, my true introduction to astronomy was at the beginning of 9th grade, when I was persuaded to take up the event in Division C Science Olympiad due to a dearth of upperclassmen knowledgeable in the subject. Under the scrupulous mentoring of the senior captains, one of which was a former IOAA participant themselves, I gradually was able to master the fundamentals of astrophysics in tandem with my broadening interest in physics itself.

But not until this year was I advised to attempt the USAAAO exam. Though I still did the Astronomy event in Science Olympiad, I had done little targeted preparation prior to taking the first round. Making it to the second round was already a feat beyond my expectations, but along with that came more nuanced topics to study. I can recall looking at the syllabus sheet and being almost bewildered by the multitude of concepts to master; even now, I still look to solidify and deepen my understanding in each of them.

Though astronomy has now become my main focus, I still remain an aspiring, though not yet as successful, math and physics olympiad competitor. Outside of these continuing academic pursuits, I also devote my time towards playing the piano, writing bug-laden computer programs, and inadvertently perusing Wikipedia.

Team Leaders

Natasa Dragovic

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I am a graduate student in mathematics at the University of Texas at Austin and I am one of the team leaders and coaches of the team USA at IOAA 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 in my department. We 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 (https://www.drp-network.org/).

Ioana Zelko

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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 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wGK7t__mTRc. Now, during my PhD, I am looking at interstellar dust. Aside from research, together with three friends, I started the project PhysicsDen (https://www.physicsden.org/), a website that hosts physics problems related to published research, in attempt to bridge the gab between class material and research. Check us out!