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Vol. 34 No. 6
November-December 2012

Conference Call | Reports from recent conferences and symposia 
See also

Going for Gold: The 44th International Chemistry Olympiad

While the world’s greatest athletes were competing in London for Olympic gold in July, an equally talented group of secondary school students was participating in the 44th International Chemistry Olympiad (IChO). The 2012 IChO engaged 283 students from 72 countries in practical and theoretical examinations at the University of Maryland, USA. from 21–30 July. The Dow Chemical Company was the sole sponsor of the competition and a major sponsor of the London Olympics, demonstrating its commitment to the Olympics of the body and mind in 2012.

Olympiad students in front of the U.S. Capitol.

The American Chemical Society (ACS) organized the 44th IChO, a significant undertaking as the host country is responsible for creating the preparatory, theoretical, and laboratory problems; arranging housing, transportation, meals, and excursions for more than 600 students, mentors, observers, and guests; and orchestrating the opening and closing ceremonies. Cecilia Hernandez, assistant director of Endowed Programs at ACS, coordinated all activities associated with the 44th IChO, with significant support provided by Kirsten Dobson and other colleagues across ACS.

Bryan Balazs served as chair of the 44th IChO Organizing Committee and was responsible for coordinating numerous committees and working with the International Steering Committee to ensure a successful program. Nobel Laureate Ahmed Zewail was the president of the 2012 Olympiad. IUPAC provided USD 10 000 to enable students from financially challenged countries to participate in the IChO.

The practical and theoretical examinations form the core of the International Chemistry Olympiad. The Scientific Committee, led by Michael Doyle and Andrei Vedernikov at the University of Maryland, crafted a set of written problems and laboratory exercises that challenged the brightest chemistry students in the world. Students took five hours to complete each exam, which were administered on different days.

Michael Doyle, chair of the Scientific Committee, with top gold medalist Florian Berger.

The results of the competition were announced during the closing ceremony at Georgetown University on 29 July. A total of 34 gold, 59 silver, and 87 bronze medals were awarded. Ten students received Honorable Mentions. The top gold medal was earned by Florian Berger of Germany, and all four members of the South Korean team were awarded gold medals. IUPAC presented certificates and books to Tzung-Hua Hsieh (Chinese Taipei), Diptarka Hait (India), and Takuya Yamakado (Japan), who were the top achievers on the theoretical and practical exams, respectively. Hait and Yamakado had identical scores on the laboratory practical. At the closing event, these students received a certificate signed by Prof. Kazuyuki Tatsumi, IUPAC President, and a copy of the two-volume History of IUPAC.

Let the Games Begin

The 44th IChO began with all of the pomp and circumstance of the London Olympics (minus the Queen, James Bond, and Paul McCartney). The opening ceremony was held on 22 July in the University of Maryland’s Dekelboum Auditorium. William F. Carroll, chair of the ACS Board of Directors, presided over the opening ceremony. The ACS’s executive director and CEO, Madeleine Jacobs, introduced each of the teams participating in the 2012 Olympiad. American culture was on display during the opening ceremony with performances by the Eagle Spirit Dancers and the University of Maryland Jazz Studies Combo.

A number of speakers, including Nobel Laureate Richard R. Schrock, congratulated the students on their selection as chemistry Olympians and encouraged them to pursue their interest in and study of chemistry. Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley and University of Maryland College Park President Wallace D. Loh welcomed the Olympians to the state of Maryland and the University of Maryland, respectively. Jerome Peribere, executive vice president of The Dow Chemical Company and president and CEO of Dow Advanced Materials also gave welcoming remarks. Peter Wothers, chair of the IChO Steering Committee offered his perspectives on the competition as a former Olympian himself. Three students, Sona Guluzade of Azerbaijan, Yazan Ghannam of Syria, and Tomohiro Soejima of Japan, offered welcoming remarks to their peers.

IUPAC Vice President Mark Cesa addresses Olympiad participants.

The Competition

The chemistry knowledge and laboratory expertise of the students were tested during the five-hour laboratory practical and theoretical examinations. Between examinations and throughout the week, the students enjoyed many of Washington, D.C.’s attractions, including museums, monuments, and Capitol Hill. Students heard from a National Aeronautical and Space Administration (NASA) astronaut during a trip to NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD. They visited the National Aquarium and the Maryland Science Center in Baltimore, MD, and experienced America’s pastime, baseball, during a game between the Baltimore Orioles and Oakland Athletics. ACS President Bassam Shakhashiri dazzled the students with a chemistry demonstration show at the University of Maryland. Students wrapped up their stay with a trip to King’s Dominion, an amusement park in Doswell, Virginia.

Mentors had a heavy workload throughout the IChO. Following the opening ceremony, mentors inspected the laboratory set-up in preparation for the practical examination. They then translated the practical examination into the language of their students, with translation of the theoretical exam occurring later in the week. Translation is made more complicated if the students from a single country speak more than one language as their native tongue.

Mentors also spent time in jury meetings, discussing the questions on the practical and theoretical exams with members of the Scientific Committee. Once the exams were graded and distributed to the mentors, a full day of arbitration was held so that the mentors could meet with the authors of the problems to ensure that students received the maximum number of points they earned. The medal distribution was determined during the final jury meeting.

It would have been unfair to bring the mentors to Washington, D.C., and keep them in a hotel the entire week, so time was built into the schedule for visiting museums and monuments. The mentors also enjoyed a dinner cruise on the Potomac River and were reunited with their students upon completion of both exams at the reunion party, which was held at the French Embassy.

Recognizing Excellence

The highlight of the closing ceremony, which was held in Gaston Hall at Georgetown University, was the awarding of the medals. Bruce E. Bursten, 2008 ACS President, served as master of ceremonies throughout the closing ceremony. YuYe Tong, chair of the Georgetown University Chemistry Department, welcomed everyone to historic Gaston Hall. Congratulations were extended to the students by Mark C. Cesa, vice president of IUPAC, and Marinda Li Wu, ACS president-elect. Everyone in the auditorium rose to their feet when the top gold medalist, Florian Berger, was announced. This show of support exemplified the spirit of the International Chemistry Olympiad as everyone—students, mentors, observers, and guests—recognized the extraordinary talent needed to achieve the top gold medal in the IChO.

The closing banquet of the Olympiad was held at the National Building Museum, a spectacular venue in which to celebrate the accomplishments of the extraordinary students who participated in the 44th International Chemistry Olympiad.

Preparations are well under way for the 45th International Chemistry Olympiad, which will be held in Moscow, Russia, in July 2013. Bryan Balazs transferred the IChO flag to Valery Lunin, president of the 45th IChO, during the closing ceremony. Next year’s competition will continue the goal of the IChO in promoting the international exchange of pedagogical and scientific experiences in chemistry, while stimulating student interest in chemistry through independent and creative solving of chemical problems. It was truly an honor for the United States to host the 44th IChO, an experience that enhanced friendly interactions among young people with a passion and talent for chemistry and encouraged cooperation through international understanding.

Mary Kirchhoff <[email protected]> is director of education for the American Chemical Society.

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