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Israel placed 16th among 73 states in the just completed International Physics Olympiad in South Korea, as five Israeli high school students returned with two silver medals, two bronze medals and a commendation. China finished first, followed by Iran in second place and South Korea in third.

The IPhO has been taking place annually for 35 years, with Israel participating in it since 1994 and winning a gold medal once. Dr. Eli Raz, a physics lecturer at the Technion, has been involved in the project since Israel joined.

Some 30,000 high school students applied to participate, from which 300 were selected, and after further testing, 30 were chosen to attend a two-week summer camp in the Technion. "In the first two days we gave them a taste of the kind of questions presented in the Olympiad," said Raz. "About 10 percent quit immediately."

Only 16 students remained at the end of the summer camp, and of them eight were picked to take part in the Asian Olympiad, ahead of the International Olympiad.

"This year 13 states participated in the Asian Olympiad and Israel came fourth," says Raz. Of the eight students who participated in the Asian Olympiad, five were selected to represent Israel in the IPhO. The competition is tough - on the first day the candidates take a five-hour theory test, and on the second day a five-hour laboratory session.

"Unlike ordinary tests, in which students study and then demonstrate their knowledge, in the Olympiad the students are asked to make syllogisms and deductions from the material they studied," said Raz.

Ilya Greenglass of Bat Yam, who won a silver medal, agreed, but said he had time to admire the questions. "There were some beautiful questions, really interesting," he said.

Asked what would happen to his matriculation exams, Greenglass said they were promised that whoever wins a medal would get the highest grade - 100 - in physics.