Sydney student wins physics gold medal

Sophie Moore

A Sydney student has become the first Australian in more than a decade to win gold in a competition pitting brains over brawn at the International Physics Olympiad in Portugal.

Sydney Grammar School student Hugo McCahon-Boersma won a gold - by finishing in the top 10 per cent of the 416 competitors - at the Unesco-backed event which finished in Lisbon earlier this week.

The year 12 student sat two five-hour exams covering topics including black holes, particle physics, the biophysics of a growing tumour and the viscoelastic properties of a polymer thread.

Hugo was part of a five-member Australian team. Two of them won bronze medals while the other two were awarded honourable mentions.

The deputy director of the Australian Science Olympiads' physics program, Siobhan Tobin, said the students underwent an intensive training program including a year of exams to qualify for the competition.

Their success comes after Australian maths whiz Professor Akshay Venkatesh became only the second Australian ever to be awarded the world's most prestigious mathematics prize - the Fields Medal - this week.

The 36-year-old, who began a science degree at the University of Western Australia aged 13, works at Stanford University in the United States.

Prof Venkatesh was among four mathematicians around the world to be awarded this year's medal which is often called the Nobel Prize of mathematics.

The physics Olympiad is one of four international science competitions held every four years with other students tackling chemistry, biology and earth science exams.