A team of high school students and their mentors made the journey to the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH), Zurich, to represent the United States at the 55th International Chemistry Olympiad (IChO). On July 24, the students learned they earned two silver and two gold medals during the competition.
This year’s team consisted of Mingwen Duan from East Lyme High School in Connecticut, Alice Liu from Marquette High School in Missouri, Anurag Sodhi from Centennial High School in Maryland, and Phoenix Wu from Seven Lakes High School in Texas. The two alternates were Sebastian Kumar from Tesla STEM High School in Washington State and Brian Li from Action-Boxborough Regional high school in Massachusetts.
The six students were selected out of an initial group of twenty that attended the Chemistry Olympiad Study Camp at the University of Maryland College Park.
IChO consisted of two comprehensive exams: a 5 h lab practical and a 5 h written theoretical exam. More than 80 countries were represented at the competition, which took place from July 16 to July 25.
“Multitasking and time management were huge in the practical exams,” Wu said. “But I think our training in the US really helped us with that.”
The team spent weeks preparing for the exams, head mentor Esther Hines, says. “There was so much material to cover, but they’re already such well-prepared kids. That made our jobs much easier.”
Duan and Liu brought home silver medals for placing in the top 66% of participants. Only individual scores were used when determining placements; no team scores were recorded.
Wu and Sodhi earned gold medals. An organist played “We Are The Champions” as the gold medalists lined up for photos. They were gifted Huawei watches after the closing ceremonies. Wu is the team’s only returning Team USA member and also took part in the online-only event in 2022, as a result of the pandemic. He earned a silver medal last year.
“This was my fourth and final opportunity, as a senior. It was such a uniquely difficult experience,” Wu says. “I would say the in-person experience is unparalleled.”
While the purpose of the trip was competition, the team also made time to sightsee and explore Switzerland and mingle with other teams from around the world; offering a sort of cultural exchange only possible with this many international students in one place.
“I just feel completely honored that I was chosen to represent us on an international level,” Liu said. “I’m really happy I was able to experience it [the competition] in the beautiful country of Switzerland, of all places.”
After medals were handed out at the closing ceremony, I-Jy Chang of National Taiwan Normal University said “this is not the end of the event. This is the beginning of your life bond with chemistry.”
This story was updated on Aug. 2, 2023, to correct the first image caption. Phoenix Wu was missing in the original caption.