Local high school chemistry students participate in different kind of ‘March Madness’

LOS ANGELES, March 19, 2012 — Chemistry students in Michael Morgan’s ChemClub at Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet High School are among 10,000 high school students in the United States who are experiencing their own “March Madness” as they participate in local Chemistry Olympiad competitions — the first step toward securing a spot on the U.S. Chemistry Olympiad team. Later this summer, the team will go up against chemistry students from 70 other nations at the 44th International Chemistry Olympiad (IChO) outside Washington, D.C.

Next month, Morgan’s top two ChemClub students will go on to take the U.S. National Chemistry Olympiad national exam with the top two students from all other participating high schools in the country. Selection for the national exam is based on scores in the local competition and teacher recommendations. The top 20 students from the national competition are then invited to a two-week intensive study camp held in June at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. The local and national contests are administered by the American Chemical Society (ACS) annually.

At the camp’s conclusion, the “final four” students are chosen to represent the United States at the International Chemistry Olympiad, where they compete with the world’s most talented high school students for gold, silver and bronze medals. This year, for the first time since 1992, the United States will host the International Chemistry Olympiad, to be held July 21-30, 2012, at the University of Maryland, College Park. The ACS is the official organizer, and The Dow Chemical Company is the official sponsor of the overall international event, where students from more than 70 nations will compete.

The United States is routinely a strong performer at the international event.  Last year’s team brought home two gold and two silver medals. In 1999 and 2000, a member of the American team won the top gold medal.

The local examinations consist of 60 multiple-choice questions representing a fairly wide range of difficulty, usually completed in 110 minutes. The three-part, 4.5-hour national exam includes multiple-choice questions, problem solving and a lab. While at the study camp in Colorado, students receive college-level training, with an emphasis on organic chemistry, through a series of lectures, problem-solving exercises, lab work and testing. At the international competition, students are tested on their chemistry knowledge and skills in a five-hour laboratory practical and five-hour written theoretical examination.

“We commend every student who participates in the Chemistry Olympiad,” says ACS president Bassam Z. Shakhashiri, Ph.D. “Whether or not they ultimately win a medal, they are already preparing to help solve the most daunting problems that challenge our world. That’s because science, and chemistry in particular, holds the key to such things as curing disease, addressing climate change, feeding our expanding population and finding new forms of renewable energy.”

“At Dow, with more than 100 years of investment in STEM education programs, we know that innovation begins not only in the classroom but also in personal imagination,” said Bo Miller, Global Director for Corporate Citizenship for The Dow Chemical Company and President and Executive Director of The Dow Chemical Company Foundation. “We are excited to use the 44th International Chemistry Olympiad as an opportunity to engage and inspire bright young scientists from across the globe to pursue careers in chemistry as a means of creating solutions to challenges that affect our planet, our communities and improve the human condition.”

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