An A.P.J. Abdul Kalam fan, a stargazer and a diehard space enthusiast overcame all challenges posed by the pandemic to strike gold at the prestigious International Astronomy and Astrophysics Competition (IAAC) 2021.
Gopalchetty Brahma and Vinay Kumar Reddy Andluri topped the youth category (over 18 years), while Sathwik Bikumalla won gold in the junior category (under 18 years) in the online competition. All three are Aerospace Engineering students at Lovely Professional University.
IAAC 2021, one of the world’s largest astronomy competitions, registered over 4,700 participants, 1,300 of who made it to the pre-final and final rounds. The participants were tested in their knowledge of astronomy and astrophysics.
The virtual contest was tightly monitored using cutting-edge technologies such as online proctoring with web-based tracking, mouse pointer tracking and webcam tracking.
Gopal’s golden dream comes true
Gopal, a final-year student, had fallen just short of bagging a gold medal in last year’s competition. His silver medal inspired him to work even harder to conquer the last frontier this year. Gopal’s perseverance paid off in the latest edition of IAAC.
“Winning a gold medal in IAAC 2021 has been a thrilling experience! I’m grateful to my mentor Amit Kumar Thakur for being a constant source of motivation and inspiration,” said the boy from Odisha.
In school, Gopal used to read books on astronomy by A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, Stephen Hawking and Albert Einstein. “I have been reading such books since Class V. Later, I decided to study Aerospace Engineering to pursue my passion,” he said.
Gopal’s preparations for the competition took a hit because of the pandemic. “I had to go back home and had to rely mostly on books and science magazines,” he said.
Gopal models himself on former Indian President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam and wants to become a successful space scientist at the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).
V for victory and...Vinay
Winning a gold medal had been Vinay’s childhood dream. As a boy, he would spend hours looking up at the sky and watching the twinkling stars from the roof of his house in Andhra Pradesh. His success can be traced back to his fascination for stars.
Speaking about his preparations for the competition, Vinay said he had to be content with limited resources and the internet because of the pandemic. “I couldn’t have prepared without the internet. I relied heavily on Google to find my study materials,” Vinay said.
A second-year student, Vinay is interested in Orbital Mechanics and how satellites are being propelled into space. He plans to pursue an MSc in Orbital Mechanics from IISC and then prepare for the ICRB exam to join ISRO for research in this field.
Sathwik shines in his maiden attempt
Knowing more about space and the universe has always been the Sathwik’s sole passion. His curiosity and thirst for knowledge brought him the gold medal in his first-ever international competition when he competed in the junior category of IAAC 2021.
"It felt great to represent the country. And I must admit that the final result made it even sweeter. Curiosity to learn more about space always keeps me motivated to study more," he said.
Like Gopal and Vinay, Sathwik also faced massive problems because of the COVID outbreak. He could not use the library of the institute and instead had to prepare for the competition from his home in Hyderabad. He expressed his gratitude to Amit Kumar Thakur, head of the department of Aerospace Engineering at Lovely Professional University, for his guidance at all times.
Sathwik wants to become a civil servant after completing his degree. “After completing my graduation, I would like to take a break from academics and prepare for the UPSC exam,” he said.