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US wins 4 golds, top spot in International Chemistry Olympiad

Competition was held online for the first time in response to COVID-19

by Andrea Widener
July 31, 2020

20200731lnp1-olympiad.jpg
Credit: Courtesy of US National Chemistry Olympiad program
The four US team members and three mentors (center colunm) celebrate their gold medal win at the 2020 International Chemistry Olympiad. Alex Li, top right, was the top gold medal winner in the competition.

The US team took home four gold medals in the 52nd International Chemistry Olympiad, including the top gold medal. Vietnam also won four golds.

Alex Li from Lexington High School in Massachusetts received the top score in the competition.

The other US gold medal winners were Alec Zhu, also of Lexington High School, in 8th place; Ananthan Sadagopan of Westborough High School in Massachusetts in 12th; and Anugrah Chemparathy of Dougherty Valley High School in California in 24th.

A total of 235 students from 60 countries competed in the Olympiad, which was hosted by Turkey on July 25. Normally held in person, the event moved online this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The competition went well for all of us,” Li says. “We all left feeling pretty confident in how we did.”

The 2020 competition marks the third time the US team has won four golds, as well as the third time a US team member has won the top gold.

The US International Chemistry Olympiad team is sponsored by the American Chemical Society and guided by a team of mentors. This year, those leaders were head mentor Melissa Barranger Mathys of Ursuline College, Joseph Houck of Pennsylvania State University, and Esther Hines of Billerica Memorial High School.

Though the competition was held online, the participants went to a local high school in their area to take the 5-hour exam. Chemparathy, who lives on the West Coast, had to get up at 5 a.m. “To get through it in time was really the hard part for me because I like to be slow and work methodically,” he says.

The students got ready for the competition during an online study camp May 31–June 12. “The camp did a good job preparing us because I think we all agree that the actual competition was a lot easier than the test they use for the team selection,” Li says.

Sadagopan says that the Olympiad questions weren’t quite the same as those from the study camp, “but we all just adapted and we ended up doing well.” As is part of the tradition, there were a few questions that related to the host country, including some involving cats and local plants.

Making the shift from an in-person event to online was challenging for the host country, mentor Mathys says. The organizers had to negotiate time zones and review the exam’s questions online for the first time. “They planned it really well even though they had only a short period of time,” she says.

Houck agrees, “The Turkey organizers, really hats off to them,” he says. “They did a really good job at making the shift to the remote exam.”

The Turkish organizers incorporated some of Turkey’s beautiful sights into the closing ceremony on July 30. They also had online avatars cheering for the winners.

Li said his favorite part was when they showed the teams from the other countries. “You can see the names and pictures of the other people who are participating. That was probably one of the highlights for me.”—.

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