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ACS News

Chemistry Olympians

by Rudy M. Baum, Editor-in-chief
June 25, 2007 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 85, Issue 26

Credit: Courtesy of Jack Kotz
WHAT A TEAM! Lynch (from left), Pezzi, Koh, Widener, Lee, Ismailov, Nubbe, Brewer, and Kotz.
Credit: Courtesy of Jack Kotz
WHAT A TEAM! Lynch (from left), Pezzi, Koh, Widener, Lee, Ismailov, Nubbe, Brewer, and Kotz.

I WAS PRIVILEGED TO GIVE the keynote address at the 2007 U.S. National Chemistry Olympiad (USNCO) Study Camp awards banquet in Colorado Springs earlier this month. The banquet capped the intense, two-week camp that was attended by 20 remarkable high school students from around the U.S. At the end of the banquet, the four-person USNCO team and two alternates were announced.

The training camp was held, as it has been since 1984, at the U.S. Air Force Academy. On the afternoon prior to the banquet, Kim Gardner, the USNCO Study Camp director and an Air Force Academy associate chemistry professor, gave me a tour of the facilities where the students attended lectures and did laboratory work.

Gardner described a pretty grueling regimen—lectures from 8 AM to noon every day on organic chemistry, inorganic chemistry, physical chemistry, analytical chemistry, and biochemistry. We're not talking basic-level material, either. The textbooks they worked from were all college level.

In the afternoons, the students worked in the lab honing their technical skills. During the course of the training camp, the students took two exams and a final and were scored on two laboratory practicals. The combined grades determined who made the team that will travel to Moscow, Russia, July 15-24 for this year's International Chemistry Olympiad.

I talked with most of the students during the reception and banquet. Every one of them described the training camp as tough, but exhilarating. "I had no idea I could learn so much in two weeks," one of them said to me. Seven of the students had participated in previous USNCO camps, and several of this year's group told me that they planned to return next year.

Gardner said that this year's group of students had bonded particularly well. "Throughout the camp, they really worked together and helped each other," she said. "And the mentors were just phenomenal. Nothing fazed them."

The mentors are key to the success of the USNCO training camp. They sign up for a three-year commitment. They spend the entire two weeks of the training camp living in the dorms with the students. They do the lion's share of the lab prep work. Two of the mentors and the peer mentor travel with the team to the competition.

This year's mentors were Jack Kotz, State University of New York, Oneonta; Kara Pezzi, Appleton East High School, Appleton, Wis.; and Will Lynch, Armstrong Atlantic State University, Savannah, Ga. This year's peer mentor was J. L. Kiappes, who just finished his junior year as a chemistry major at Rice University. Kiappes was a member of the USNCO team in 2004.

At the conclusion of the banquet, after plaques and gifts had been given to all of the training camp participants, Kotz announced the results of the camp. This year's USNCO team members are Justin Koh, Stockdale High School, Bakersfield, Calif.; Brian Lee, Harvard-Westlake High School, Northridge, Calif.; Sophia Ismailov, West Windsor-Plainsboro High School South, Plainsboro, N.J.; and Kenneth Brewer, Timpview High School, Provo, Utah. The two alternates are Matthew Nubbe, Huntsville High School, Huntsville, Ala., and Patricia Widener, Valencia High School, Yorba Linda, Calif.

Also essential to the success of the USNCO camp is the support of the American Chemical Society and the Air Force Academy.

Thanks for reading.

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