PLANCKS 2023 - a huge success

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It was a great pleasure for the Department of Physics to host the largest-ever in-person preliminary of the international theoretical physics competition, PLANCKS. The event was held between the 17 - 19 February 2023 and was attended by 56 teams representing 34 universities from the UK and Ireland. The highlight of the weekend was a 4-hour exam, which saw participants collaborating in teams to solve ten challenging physics problems.

The ‘Oxonians’ from the University of Oxford secured first place, followed closely by ‘Dark Fermi Gang 3.0’ and ‘Bobo Piggas’ from the University of Cambridge. The winners will now represent the UK and Ireland at the international finals, which will take place at the University of Milan this May. A special mention goes to the highest ranked composite team, ‘notgonnawin’ who placed fifteenth. Everyone deserves to be congratulated for the way they solved the exam. It was impressive to see the different ways problems were attempted and the creative solutions participants produced.

Plancks participants

Photograph of the +200 participants on campus.


The event also featured a number of speakers, including Dr Brianna Heazlewood, Pascale Desmet, Prof Peter Weightman, Dr Nabil Iqbal, IOP Merseyside Chair Prof Andrew Newsam, and our Head of Department, Prof Carsten P Welsch, who welcomed participants on the Friday afternoon and talked about the research carried out within the department and what makes Liverpool physics special.

Professor Welsch said: “Through the talks, attendees learned about various topics, such as controlling ion-neutral reactions, dusty galaxies, the physics of life, holographic duality, outreach, and the skills required for a successful physics career. It was fantastic to have this competition here at Liverpool. We owe a big thank you to the fantastic organizing team behind PLANCKS2023 for making this event so successful.”

On Friday, the traditional PLANCKS quiz night was held, along with a pizza party. On Saturday, the popular panel show ‘Are You Smarter Than an Undergrad?’ was welcomed back. There, a panel of academics demonstrated their far-reaching knowledge of physics. Dr Nabil Iqbal from Durham University secured the win in the lightning round by calculating the mass dimensions of a scalar field for a Lagrangian in 86 dimensions. On Sunday morning, participants spoke with current PhD students about their experiences and current research. The evenings provided an excellent opportunity to socialise and have fun.

Over the past seven years, PLANCKS has grown substantially in the UK and Ireland, from a contest of three teams and a dozen participants to a colossal event that brings together likeminded individuals to share their love for physics and problem-solving. The 2023 preliminaries marked the first time PLANCKS was held in person since 2020, and everyone was thrilled to have come back bigger than ever.

PLANCKS embodies the values of the IOP by providing a unique opportunity that inspires students to develop their knowledge, understanding, and enjoyment of physics. It is also a chance to collaborate and network with peers; these values were at the forefront of the 2023 preliminaries