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17-year-old Theoretical Physicist is Israel’s Star in Science Contest

May 13, 2004
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In a sea of competitors, 17-year-old Ilya Gurevich of Israel is alone in the field of theoretical physics.

All the other teenagers competing in the physics division at this year’s Intel International Science and Engineering Fair have entered projects in practical physics, Ilya said, but he stuck with the theoretical.

“The world’s largest science fair,” formerly known as the Westinghouse Competition, is taking place at multiple locations May 9-15, including the Oregon Convention Center in Portland.

Ilya recently won first prize in the Intel Israel-Bloomfield Science Museum Young Scientists Competition.

He said he was “very surprised” when he won the award for his research on the behavior and influence of small disruptions in the uniformity of the universe.

“I know it was on a very high level, but it was not practical,” Ilya said.

Practical or not, Israeli scientists have chosen Ilya and Igor Kreimerman of the Israel Arts and Science Academy in Jerusalem, winner of second prize in the Israel competition, to represent Israel in the 2004 Intel competition.

Upon entering the vast hall at Oregon Convention Center, crowded with exhibits from end to end, Ilya, on his first visit to the United States, said he hadn’t expected the grand scale of the event.

About 1,300 teenagers from 40 countries are competing in 15 categories for a total of $3 million in scholarships, internships, and travel and equipment grants from the Intel Foundation, public and private universities, and about 70 corporate, professional and government sponsors. The 1,200 judges include scientists, engineers and Nobel Prize laureates.

The three winners of the grand prize, the Intel Young Scientist Award, each will receive a $50,000 scholarship and an invitation to attend the Nobel Prize ceremonies in Stockholm, Sweden.

Ilya said his project, called “Deviations from an Isotropic and Homogeneous Expansion of the Universe,” defies simple explanation.

Essentially, he said, the project tries to preserve Einstein’s theories with regard to the expanding universe and its impact on cosmology.

Ilya, whose father was a physicist, was 4 when his family moved from Leningrad to Israel. At 5, he became interested in zoology; at 7, his interest was astronomy. He read about Einstein’s theory of relativity and cosmology at 14 and has been fascinated by it ever since.

Science is not about reading books, Ilya said: “At some point you have to start working and thinking yourself.”

The high school senior has been taking courses at Ben-Gurion University, in Beersheva, for two years, and soon after graduating from high school he will complete his bachelor’s degree in physics. He received the Rector’s Prize from Ben-Gurion University for maintaining a grade point average above 97.

Ilya said he has two especially good teachers for physics and math at the AMIT school in Beersheva, a public high school that offers physics in the seventh grade, two years earlier than in other schools, he said.

Ilya, whose hobbies are tennis and soccer, said he is religious only in his patriotism.

The young astrophysicist said the results of the competition, which were slated to be announced May 14, will not change his life. He said he looks forward to doing research and teaching physics.

After participating in the International Physics Olympiads in 2002 and 2003, he has become an instructor for the Olympiads.

“I’m told I’m very good when giving lectures to people who understand me,” he said.

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