Maryland Section

       U.S. NATIONAL CHEMISTRY OLYMPIAD                                   Maryland Section





Local Exam and USNCO information: USNCO Maryland   

Successful Stories: Read about Joe Wan’s Chemistry Olympiad experience at chemistry camp!

                  Chemistry Olympiad Experience          of Joe Wan

As we mentioned in the last issue of Chesapeake Chemist, Mr Joe Wan of Wilde Lake HS was one of the twenty high school students who were selected, among nearly 1000 participants of the National Exam for the 43rd International Chemistry, to enter the US Training camp in early June for two weeks at the USAF Academy in Colorado. Here is a report from Mr. Wan describing his exciting Chemistry Olympiad experience.

I began studying for the USNCO National Exam around December of last school year. Using the released previous exams to get a feel for the content of the exams, I supplemented the course material we had already covered in Chemistry AP with online resources such as MIT OpenCourseWare. We hadn't covered organic chemistry or electrochemistry yet in class, and I felt that I needed to review thermochemistry, so these were the subjects I spent time independently studying. In April, I took the National Exam, which was probably the longest and most intense exam I had taken; its three sections spanned about 4 and a half hours--almost an hour longer than the SAT and with only two breaks. The most important issue for me on the three sections of the test was time--it was difficult to conduct experiments in the allotted time in the lab practical, or to finish all the calculations on time during the multiple choice section. I left the test with mixed feelings--while I was satisfied with my performance on the free response section, I was less confident about the multiple choice and lab practical portions. It came as a complete surprise to me when my chemistry teacher, Ms. Gail Schulman, asked me if I had heard the news--I had qualified for the national study camp! Soon after, the American Chemical Society sent me an organic chemistry textbook and a list of chapters to study; for a few weeks I worked intensively through the textbook.

Then, it was time to travel to Colorado Springs for the training camp at the US Air Force Academy. There, along with 19 other students from across the country, I spent entire days on chemistry: typically, we'd spend the morning in lectures (covering physical chemistry, organic chemistry, biochemistry, and inorganic chemistry), eat lunch, then do laboratory work in afternoon. The labs were very exciting: we did everything from organic synthesis to iodometric titration; even though we were given four hours for one or two labs, everybody was rushing to complete the labs on time--once again, the major issue was time management. Interspersed within the two weeks were several 2-hour "quizzes" and a 4-hour final exam. This experience was challenging, but also very rewarding. It was amazing to be surrounded by students who shared my interest in chemistry, and we really became close to each other. When not studying, we'd watch movies, joke around, or play games like Mafia and Contact together. In addition, the camp professors and mentors worked extremely hard to make the camp successful. The professors were always approachable and helpful, and the mentors were incredibly friendly and supportive, often staying up all night grading papers and ceaselessly working to keep the camp organized.

All in all, the US National Chemistry Olympiad was a great experience which allowed me to follow my passion for chemistry and meet great friends. I definitely plan to participate in the USNCO again, and perhaps try to qualify for the international travel team. And last but not least, I very much appreciate the support from the ACS Maryland Local Section, particularly Mr. Mike Zapf, Ms. Beatrice Salazar, Dr. Shirish Shah, and Mr. Pat Bell who coordinated the National Exam at the Notre Dame College in Maryland. I look forward to seeing them again next year.

Joe Wan