Some individuals stand out in the quest for academic excellence, shining with brilliance and embodying resilience and courage. Ong Zhi Zheng, an 18-year-old Cambridge A-Level student from INTI International College Penang, exemplifies this exceptional journey in cosmic exploration.
Zhi Zheng’s achievements stretch far beyond Penang’s academic halls. He soared to international acclaim, clinching a gold medal at the renowned International Olympiad on Astronomy and Astrophysics (IOAA) 2023 and a silver medal at the International Physics Olympiad (IPhO) 2023.
A Penang native, Zhi Zheng’s rise on the global stage is a testament to his unwavering determination. The IOAA, which took place in Poland on August 20th, assembled some of the brightest young astronomers from over 70 countries. Among 236 participants, Zhi Zheng’s outstanding performance and commitment to the subject earned him a spot in the top 28 gold medalists.
Zhi Zheng’s love for astronomy was sparked by a book, “Where the Universe Came From.” This initial intrigue led him to participate in the Malaysian Olympiad on Astronomy & Astrophysics – Junior, laying the groundwork for his future successes.
“The sheer magnitude of the cosmos in astrophysics is awe-inspiring,” he reflected. With vast distances that even light takes ages to cross and timelines that make human history seem fleeting, the universe’s immensity is humbling.
A pivotal moment in his journey was the immersive selection camp at the Malaysian Planetarium in Kuala Lumpur, which the StarFinder Astronomical Society orchestrated. Participants became celestial creators here, crafting simple yet powerful telescopes from glass lenses and PVC pipes. These hand-made instruments, symbols of dedication and artistry, fueled Zhi Zheng’s passion for the universe.
Always grateful, Zhi Zheng credits his parents for their unwavering support. “I’m deeply thankful to my parents for their consistent support and for ferrying me to competitions in Kuala Lumpur,” he said.
INTI International College Penang also provided partial sponsorship, easing financial challenges for Zhi Zheng’s international contests.
Tackling physics recreationally and under pressure are worlds apart, Zhi Zheng noted. “The adrenaline rush from time-bound tasks makes physics truly competitive.” He learned to thrive under pressure, supported by the collective spirit of global peers with shared passions.
Zhi Zheng advises budding scholars to look beyond mere memorisation, emphasising understanding both theoretical and practical elements. Such a holistic approach not only aids in deducing necessary equations but also in viewing mistakes as lessons. He further encourages the exploration of various Olympiads, urging students to find their true calling.
In the future, Zhi Zheng hopes to delve deeper into the universe’s enigmas through a university-level physics course. His relentless curiosity propels him to seek answers to the universe’s grandest mysteries.
Beyond academics, Ong Zhi Zheng cherishes stargazing and is passionately involved in hands-on physics and electronics projects, a testament to his boundless enthusiasm for the cosmos.
Ong Zhi Zheng (right) with INTI International College Penang chief executive Hemalatha Murugiah, posing after the Cambridge A-Level Academic Awards ceremony where he was celebrated for achieving 4A* in Mathematics, Chemistry, Further Pure Mathematics, and Physics.
Ong Zhi Zheng was highly focused during the observation paper, which placed him among the top 20% winners at the International Olympiad in Astrophysics and Astronomy.
Eighteen-year-old Ong Zhi Zheng posing with friends during the Olympiad, which was held in Poland.