Shenandoah County Student Places Fifth in the International Space Olympics’ Astrophysics Competition

By: WHSV News Staff Email
By: WHSV News Staff Email

SHENANDOAH COUNTY, Va -- Cecilia McGough, a senior at Strasburg High School and a student at the Massanutten Regional Governor’s School of Integrated Science and Technology (Mt. Jackson), earned fifth place in the astrophysics category of the International Space Olympics held October 16 - 27 in Korolev, Russia.

In addition, the Russian hosts, based on their observations of her interactions with other competitors, honored Cecilia McGough by declaring her “Miss Space Olympics.”

Judges for the event were leading Russian scientists. Winners will have their projects published in scientific journals.

This international competition involved 200 students from countries around the world. Twenty-one students were placed, along with Cecilia, in the Astrophysics area. Each participant gave a presentation about his or her research project and took exams in math, physics and literature.

Cecilia’s project, which included a 21 page paper, was titled: "Pulsar Research, Discovery, and Their Effects on Scientific Knowledge and Technology." Cecilia’s project was the perfect one for her because she is the co-discoverer of a pulsar, only one of six such discoveries made by high school students world-wide.

Cecilia said that examining raw data sets, sets that no one else had examined, was exciting. Finding evidence of a pulsar was even better. “I was thrilled,“ she said. “We were all super tense after examining all these data sets it might just come up as noise. I don’t think I was ever so happy [as I was in that moment],” McGough commented in an article on James Madison University’s website.

A pulsar is, as defined by McGough, “a dense, neutron star that emits electromagnetic radiation.” More simply explained, a pulsar is a dying star with a fast spin rate. The fast spin rate and strong magnetic field cause dipole radiation to be emitted.

In addition to the academic competition, the 10 day Olympic event included cultural and historical activities for the participants. Students toured Moscow, attended a ballet, and visited a Space Museum where they saw the first Sputnik. There were opening and closing ceremonies, and friendships were formed.

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