Thursday, March 20, 2014

An Afternoon with the Stars: the Celestial Kind

How much do you know about the constellations?  Do you know how a telescope works?  These were some questions which our young astronomy enthusiasts had to grapple with.

A hundred participants from 17 secondary schools gathered at the Theatre of the Arts on Friday afternoon for the NYP Astronomy Competition. This 17-year-old competition, organized by NYP’s School of Engineering, comprised three categories, which tested the contestants on separate levels of knowledge. 

The General category was open to students under the age of 16. Competitors first had to undergo a MCQ test with the top six schools proceeding to the second round, which consisted of two smaller phases. The first phase was a quick fire round of MCQ questions that awarded bonus points to the team that provided the correct answers first. The second phase required the teams to select questions of varying topics and difficulties from a board. The teams had to exhaust all the questions on the board. While marks were awarded for a correct answer, marks were also deducted for a wrong answer, with difficult questions carrying greater rewards and penalties. The questions could also be redirected to any other team, resulting in some pretty interesting strategies.

In contrast, the Advanced, under-18 category, consisted of a single two-hour long theoretical paper, comprising 10 short questions. This required the teamwork from pairs of brave souls who had to solve questions with any resources that they had on hand. Understandably, this category required a great deal of self-reliance, which in turn would result in plenty of self-learning too!

To put a unique spin on the competition this year, a new category called “Alliance” was added. This aptly named category randomly matches three students from different schools to take part in a theory and practical test, each lasting an hour. The theory paper required the team to discuss the answers carefully before penning them down. The practical test, on the other hand, required them to use a computer program called "Stellarium" to answer questions related to celestial objects, constellations and such. Only one computer was allocated to one team, so the teams had to work together closely.
One of the Alliance teams in deep discussion.
When the competition started, the atmosphere in the Advanced category was tense, with the teams fixated on papers. On the other hand, the Alliance category was livelier and more relaxed as the sharing of ideas flooded the small lecture theatre. It was intriguing to see the spontaneous partnerships that emerged from this category.
An Alliance team engrossed in Stellarium.
When the students started using Stellarium, I was surprised to see that the program captured the students’ interest. I too, was absorbed by the beautifully-crafted program that rendered animals in lieu of constellations.
Students answering the first quiz in the General category.
The lecture hall was tense and quiet as the students focused on their papers. While the test was like any other test, serious and no-nonsense, there was a section that required students to make use of their creativity to complete a Connect the Dots puzzle. The results ranged from downright generic works to complete absurdity.
Robin Low, Managing Director of Staroptics Engineering Pte. Ltd.
After a well-deserved hour long break, two esteemed guest speakers  were invited to share their thoughts on astronomy. Mr Robin Low, Managing Director of Staroptics Engineering Pte. Ltd, began by explaining NYP’s Telescope System. The talk was complemented with detailed PowerPoint slides and a video that showed our very own telescope at work. The audience was intrigued to finally find out how a telescope system works in real life and seeing how telescope functions enable them to understand the concept better.
Remus Chua, author of
The second talk was about astrophotography trends and experiences. Mr Remus Chua, author of and an astronomy enthusiast, took over the stage and gave an inside view to the life of an avid “astro-photographer”. His encounters with the astrophotography community and life experiences were generously shared. Numerous tips about being an astro-photographer were noted down by the eager students. Mr Chua’s talk was peppered with many humorous and entertaining stories. At the end of his talk, Mr Chua played a video, showcasing a huge collection of beautiful celestial images. It exemplified that a hobbyist with minimal funding can still achieve wonderful results. 
A student ponders a question during the second round of the General Category.
After the talks, it was time to announce the schools which made it to the second round of the General Category  The qualifying teams were applauded as they made their way on the stage for a quiz. Questions ranged from particle physics questions to how a telescope works. The first phase was a quick fire MCQ test that ended in a short but tense fifteen minutes. Raffles Institution (RI) and Raffles Girls School (RGS) were neck and neck throughout most of the round. Although RGS managed to secure bonus points for completing all the questions first, RI finished in first place for answering more questions correctly.
A team answers a question during the second round of the General Category.
After the lightning round, the General Category moved into its second phase. It was surely nerve-wrecking for the teams to pick the right questions to answer as a wrong decision could surelycost them precious points.

Questions were  conquered one at a time and the board slowly filled up with ticks and crosses. Loud cheers  would erupt from the stands whenever a question was redirected to a rival team and an even louder applause would ring out if the redirected answer was answered correctly. This phase revealed the rivalry between Nanyang Junior College and NUS High as they were frequently redirecting questions to each other. The crowd took a liking to the playful rivalry as  hilarious outcomes  emerged from the back-and-forth challenges.  At the end of the last question, RI came out victorious with more than twice the score of the first runner-up. Not only were they good at answering their questions, but they had a sound strategy. They had foreseen the conflict within the six teams and tried to stay quiet to protect their points, while the other teams deliberately harmed each other by redirecting questions. Very clever indeed.

Medals prepared on a table for the award ceremony.
At 6.30pm, the award ceremony began with happy faces all around. Though tired and worn out from the long day of travelling, tests and talks, the participants were eager to find out the winners of the various categories.  Bread, cakes, noodles and drinks were waiting for them as the day concluded. The experiences were truly enlightening as everyone learnt a lot from this single day.
The Astronomy Club and their helpers.
The 17th  NYP Astronomy Competition would not have been possible without the Astronomy Club’s amazing dedication and passion to promote and extend the reach of astronomy, especially the student helpers who spent many hours in preparation for this eventand made much sacrifices. Lastly, many thanks to the lecturers who assisted the club in their endeavors, hopefully the club will continue to shine even brighter in the future.

The winners of the 17th NYP Astronomy Competition are listed below. Congrats to all!

Alliance Category (One per school, Three per team)
First Place:
Chong Boon Secondary School/ School of Science & Technology Singapore/School of the Arts Singapore

Second Place, 1st Runners-up:
Woodlands Ring Secondary School/School of the Arts Singapore/CHIJ St Theresa Convent

Third Place, 2nd Runners-up:
Christ Church Secondary School/Woodlands Ring Secondary School/Raffles Institution

Fourth Place, 3rd Runners-up:
Raffles Girls Secondary School/School of the Arts Singapore/Raffles Institution

Advance Category (Pair of Winners from same school)
First Place:
NUS High School of Math and Science

Second Place:
National Junior College

General Category (Three winners per team)
First Place:
Raffles Institution

Second Place, 1st Runners-up:
NUS High School of Math and Science

Third Place, 2nd Runners-up:
Bukit Panjang Government High School

National Junior College
Raffles Girls Secondary School
Angle Chinese School (Independent)

Most Improved:
Christ Church Secondary

All cash prizes were sponsored by the Institute of Physics Singapore.

Photo Credit: Nanyang Polytechnic Astronomy Club
By Sean Yap, Year 2, Diploma in Information Security

Sean enjoys playing recreational tennis and international chess. He has a huge interest in films and is addicted to watching movies. Writing articles are also a hobby for him. Writing allows him to be creative and express his opinions on different matters.

1 comment:

  1. Chew Zheng Yang (Nastro publicity committee)March 24, 2014 at 7:44 PM

    correction: photo credit to Nanyang Polytechnic Astronomy Club, thx