As with so many other planned events this year, the Covid-19 Pandemic had its effect on the U.S. High School Chemistry Olympiad in its 37th year. This is an annual program for high school students organized by the American Chemical Society (ACS) and was forced to become a virtual program in April. The Chemical Society of Washington (CSW) is proud that it was able to maintain its participation continuously for all 37 years. The CSW conducts its Local Section Olympiad at two levels; the first level is the Local Section examination in March and the second level is the U.S. National Chemistry Olympiad (USNCO) examination in the latter half of April. For the National exam ACS allots each Local Section a number of student places based upon the Section membership with the rule that a maximum of two students can be from one school. About 1000 students across the U.S. take the National exam, and the twenty students who have the highest scores are invited to the study camp in June at the University of Maryland – College Park campus. Four students from the study camp attendees are selected for the U.S. team to participate in the International Chemistry Olympiad in July.
The CSW’s Local Section Olympiad went as normal until around mid-March. An online registration form was developed for the CSW web with which the chemistry teachers could register their students for the Local Section Examination. Each school that responded to the February invitation letter to participate could register up to a maximum of 20 students. The Local Section (LS) Exam was purchased from National ACS and consists of 60 multiple choice questions. A little less than 250 LS Exams were sent to 24 chemistry teachers. This is the highest number of high schools that has participated in the CSW Olympiad. Of the 24 schools, eleven are in Maryland, ten in Virginia, and three in Washington, D.C., two private schools and one a charter school. The teachers administered the exam to the students they had selected during the period of March 1-13 and returned the answer sheets to the CSW Coordinators for grading with the answer key supplied by ACS. The students to take the USNCO exam were selected from the top scores with a maximum of two students per high school. All the students who took the Local Section Exam received Certificates of Participation as did their teachers. Two students who scored 50-60 received Certificates of High Honors, and seven students who scored 40-49 received Certificates of Honors.
The coronavirus pandemic completely changed the way the USNCO exam was administered this year. By mid-March ACS had already deleted the Laboratory Practical, so the two written exams comprised the 2020 National Exam. Because of the increasing pandemic and the restrictions placed on public gatherings, CSW decided not to participate in the National Exam to be given in-person and so notified the chemistry teachers. About mid-April the ACS Olympiad Office notified CSW that the National Exam was to be given virtually with remote proctoring. Proctoring for the first written exam Part I, which is a 60 multiple choice question exam, was to be arranged by the Local Sections. After a short learning curve about remote proctoring on our part, two of the high school chemistry teachers agreed to proctor Part I. 21 students took the Part I Exam under the auspices of CSW on Sunday, April 26th; one student, William Xu from Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, had automatically qualified for the 2020 National Exam because of his attendance at the 2019 Study Camp. 778 students across the U.S. took the Part I exam, and the 150 students who scored the highest were invited to take the Part II Exam on the following Sunday, May 3rd for which ACS supplied the remote proctoring. Five of the CSW students qualified for and took the Part II Exam, which is a problem solving and free response exam.
The scores of the Part I and Part II exams were combined for the total National Exam scores of the 150 students. The 20 students who scored the highest on the National Exam were invited to the virtual Study Camp, which was held May 31 – June 12 in collaboration with the Chemistry Department of the University of Maryland at College Park, MD. From CSW Kaien Yang of Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology attended the 2020 US National Chemistry Olympiad Virtual Study Camp. Four of the CSW students attained High Honors on the National Exam: Joshua Jones from Langley High School, Christopher Tong from Montgomery Blair High School, and William Xu and Kaien Yang from Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. Kwanwoo Park from Langley High School earned Honors.
The 21 students who participated in Part I of the National Exam are listed below along with their teachers and high schools. The five students who took Part II are marked with an asterisk.
In May it was announced that the 52nd International Chemistry Olympiad (ICO) would be virtual and consist of the theoretical exam only. A total of 235 students from 60 countries competed in the remote access Olympiad, which was coordinated from Istanbul, Turkey on July 25. The U. S. Team took home four gold medals in an extraordinary performance at this ICO, including the first place medal. Alex Li from Lexington High School, MA won the Top Gold medal, placing first in the overall ranking of students. Gold medals were earned also by Alec Zhu of Lexington High School, MA who placed 8th, Ananthan Sadagopan from Westborough High School, MA in 12th place, and Anugrah Chemparathy of Dougherty Valley High School, CA in 24th place.
We thank very much Mr. Xu Duan, chemistry teacher at Holton-Arms School, and Mr. Brett Bentley, chemistry teacher at Thomas Wootton High School, for remote proctoring Part 1 of the National Exam for CSW. We want to commend the following individuals from the ACS Chemistry Olympiad Program for the tremendous effort they expended to make sure there was a Chemistry Olympiad this year in spite of the Covid-19 pandemic: Lily Raines, Ph.D., Manager of Office of Science Outreach, Margaret Thatcher, Program Specialist, Joshua Pak, Chair, and the members of the ACS USNCO Subcommittee.
CSW Chemistry Olympiad Co-Coordinators