UBC Physics Circle

Are there giant ants in outer space? How is DNA crammed into the cell nucleus? How many Starbucks stores in Seattle? Can you extract information from a black hole?

Physics provides a powerful set of tools for understanding the world around us. The UBC Physics Circle invites motivated high school students (grades 10–12) to join us as we build up this toolset, and apply it to everything from buying a cup of coffee to the deepest mysteries of the cosmos. Each meeting features a guest lecture by a UBC professor or student, or an on-campus lab tour at UBC Point Grey. Past topics include dark matter, music, molecular dreidels and quantum gravity. Lectures are followed by pizza and problem-solving sessions, guided by UBC physics students. While our problem sessions can prepare attendees for competitions (such as the CAP Prize exam and the Sir Isaac Newton Exam), our main goal is to foster curiosity, creativity, and a sense of community.

Physics Circle meetings consist of 2-hour sessions on Thursdays (from 5:15–7:15 PM), occurring every 2–3 weeks (starting October 3, 2019). They are held in the Hebb building, UBC Point Grey Campus, in room 212 unless otherwise noted. Please email physics.circle@phas.ubc.ca if you have any questions.

We strongly encourage students underrepresented in STEM – girls, Indigenous youth, and those from underprivileged communities – to participate.  A small fee is collected to cover the cost of pizza. However, no student will be turned away for the lack of funds.  


  • Meetings start with lectures. Typically, a UBC physicist will introduce their research, advanced physics concepts, some applications of physics, or ideally all three (5:15–6:00).
  • Lectures are occasionally replaced by on-campus lab tours.
  • After the lecture/lab tour, students are let loose on a fun and challenging problem set (6:00–7:15). This is an informal setting where students can explore, ask questions, and learn actively together.
  • Physics Circle volunteers write problem sets and provide guidance, as well as occasional problem-solving tutorials. Sets will include both competition-style questions and explorations beyond the high school syllabus.
  • Pizza and refreshments are provided.

Virtual Physics Circle (2020)

We will be running a short lecture series on Zoom called the Hacker’s Guide to Physics.

Meetings (2019–2020)

Due to the recent COVID-19 outbreak, on-campus classes and activities at UBC have been cancelled, and university staff are working remotely. In consequence, Physics Circle meeting have gone online until further notice.

  • [postponed] April 30, 2020. TBA. Andre Marziali.
  • [postponed] April 16, 2020. TBA. Joanna Karczmarek.
  • [postponed] April 2, 2020. Approaching open-ended problems in physics. Alex May.
  • [postponed] March 19, 2020. Revolutionizing physics education. Jared Stang.
  • March 5, 2020. Particle physics and the Standard Model. Robin Hayes.
  • February 20, 2020. Quantum computing. SBQMI: Diversifying Talent in Quantum Computing (DTQC).
  • February 6, 2020. Gravitational waves. Jess McIver.
  • January 23, 2020. Astronomy. Deborah Good.
  • December 5, 2019. What do condensed matter physicists do? Mona Berciu.
  • November 21, 2019. The space weather of ultracool dwarfs. Anna Hughes.
  • November 7, 2019. Rainbows. Pedram Amani. (Activity sheet and solutions.)
  • October 17, 2019. Lab tour at Stuart Blusson Quantum Matter Institute. Pinder Dosanjh.
  • October 3, 2019. What is Hawking radiation? Douglas Scott.

Problem sets (2019–2020)

Our Volunteers

Pedram Amani (Program Organizer/Coordinator)
Phillip Bement
Connor Bevington
Sean Chen
Sean Ghaeli
Peter Gysbers
Daniel Korchinski
Marianne Moore
Chris Waddell
David Wakeham (Program Organizer/Coordinator)
Rio Weil

Spherical cows may happen.

Problem Sets and Solutions from Past Cycles

May 16, 2019:            Problem Set #10

May 2, 2019:              Problem Set #9

April 11, 2019:            Problem Set #8 and solutions.

March 28, 2019:         Problem Set #7 and solutions.

March 14, 2019:         Problem Set #6 and solutions.

February 14, 2019:     Problem Set #5 and solutions.

January 31, 2019:       Problem Set #4 and solutions.

January 24, 2019:       Problem Set #3 and solutions.

November 29, 2018:   Problem Set #2 and solutions.

November 22, 2018:   Problem Set #1 and solutions.

May 31, 2018:         Problem Set #6

May 17, 2018:         Problem Set #5 and solutions.

May 2, 2018:          There is no problem set for this date (lab session).

April 19, 2018:        Problem Set #4 and solutions.

April 5, 2018:          Problem Set #3 and solutions.

March 15, 2018:     Problem Set #2 and solutions.

March 1, 2018:       Problem Set #1 and solutions.

One problem set with solutions is available from Physics Circle 2014-2015.

Previous Guest Speakers

We are grateful to the following past Physics Circle speakers:

Dr. Alex MacKay (Medical Physics, Magnetic Resonance Imaging)

Alex May, Ph.D. Candidate (Theoretical Physics, special lecture)

Dr. Alison Lister (Particle Physics, ATLAS Experiment at CERN)

Dr. Chris Waltham (Music and Physics)

Dr. Christa Van Laerhoven (Astronomy & Astrophysics)

David Wakeham, Ph.D. Candidate (Dimensional Analysis, Fermi Problems)

Dr. Douglas Scott (Cosmology)

Gary Tom, MSc Candidate (Exploring the Nano-Universe)

Dr. Ian Affleck (Theoretical Physics, Condensed Matter)

Dr. Jaymie Matthews (Astronomy & Astrophysics)

Dr. Joanna Karczmarek (Theoretical Physics:  Low and High Dimensions)

Dr. Joss Ives (Optics Lab Session)

Lucas Bezerra, MSc Candidate (Dark Matter and Neural Networks)

Dr. Mark Halpern (Astronomy & Astrophysics)

Dr. Mark Van Raamsdonk (Theoretical Physics:  Quantum Gravity)

Dr. Valery Milner (Molecular Dreidels: Spinning Molecules with a Laser Beam)

Previous Volunteers

Ennio Moreau
Hailey Ahn
Pedram Laghaei (coordinator 2017–19)
Wu Jih (Andy) Hsu