Rudolf Ortvay Competition in Physics

The Rudolf Ortvay Problem Solving Contest in Physics - announced by the Physics Students' Association of Eötvös University, Budapest, the Roland Eötvös Physical Society and the Hungarian Association of Physics Students - celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2009.

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Rudolf ORTVAY studied in Göttingen, where he attended the lectures of Hilbert, Minkowski and F. Klein. Later he worked in Zürich with Debye and in Münich with Sommerfeld. In 1915 he became professor of theoretical physics at the University of Kolozsvár (Cluj), and from 1921 professor of theoretical physics at the University of Szeged. Between 1928 and 1946 he was chair professor of theoretical physics at Pázmány Péter University of Sciences (former name of Eötvös University) in the 1930's and 40's. It was his merit that the previously rather internal Hungarian Theoretical physics community became connected to the mainstream of international scientific activity. On his invitation, the leading figures of the scientific revoultion of the time (e.g. Werner Heisenberg) visited Budapest. In Ortvay's lectures the Hungarian university students got up-to-date reports about the forefront of theoretical physics. It was he who implanted the life-long scientific interest as well as the basics of the physical way of thinking, and its flexible applicability into many representatives of the following generation of scientists. Therefore it is no surprise that Ortvay's name was chosen to mark the problem solving contest that aims at the development of the physical way of thinking of young talents.

The contest was first organized in 1970 by the young professors of Eötvös University. The assigned problems do not focus on school-level problem-solving routine but rather on the skills of physical way of thinking, recognition of the heart of the problem, and the appropriate choice in the mathematical armory. The majority of the assigned problems are original, only few have been published in problem-books. The assigners of the problems are physicists working at various universities and at research institutes - many of them are one-time contestants - and to our great pleasure more and more students feel inclined to pose concise and striking problems for the others, as well as to take the responsibility of correcting the solutions. Some problems lead the contestants to so-far unsolved, open questions of science, the solution of which may spurringly influence their future scientific careers. During the discussion of the problems (following the announcement of the results) instructive debates are often induced by the most difficult problems.

During the past years prizes won in the Ortvay Contest became an ever more important factor in choosing the best candidates for thesis topics as well as PhD and student exchange scholarships. Among the one-time contestants and winners of the Ortvay Contest there are several internationally acknowledged researchers.

The range of contestants got manyfold in the past few years: it was no more an internal contest for the physics students at Eötvös University - many solutions arrived from the Technical University of Budapest, as well as the Universities of Debrecen, Szeged, Cluj Napoca and Bergen. Due to the interest shown by foreign universities, we decided to organize an international Ortvay Contest in 1998. After the successful initiation (more than 20 foreign participants from all over the world) we wish to announce our contest regularly as an international competition in physics.

The Contest was first organized by the Physics Students' Association of Eötvös University (represented by enthusiastic young professors) with the manifold support, sponsorship and infrastructure of the Roland Eötvös Physical Society. A few years later the newly founded Hungarian Association of Physics Students took its share from the organizaion. The prizes of the contest were first offered by the Roland Eötvös Physical Society and the Central Research Institute for Physics while in the last couple of years also joined them the Students' Foundation of Eötvös University and the Dean of the Faculty of Sciences.

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