National high school chemistry finalists attend camp at Academy

  • Published
  • By Amber Baillie
  • Air Force Academy Public Affairs
The 2012 U.S. National Chemistry Olympiad finalists have put their chemistry knowledge and skills to the test through competitive exams and lab practicals at the Academy's 28th U.S. National Chemistry Olympiad study camp June 5-20 here.

Fifteen high school boys and five high school girls from across the country have spent time in the Academy's chemistry department to study, test and compete to represent the U.S. at the 44th International Chemistry Olympiad competition next month.

"I think this program is remarkable in that it showcases our faculty on the national level and also encourages high school students to push themselves in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics fields," said Department of Chemistry Associate Professor Kim Gardner, the director of the camp. "Many of these students have the potential to go on to be leaders in their fields, so I think this is important."

The group consisted of four seniors, 12 juniors, three sophomores and one freshman. They came from areas such as Michigan, New York, Missouri, Connecticut and California.

"The material they are studying is at the undergraduate level in organic, inorganic, analytical and physical chemistry as well as biochemistry," Gardner said.
High school junior Jess Xu from New Jersey said organic chemistry has been a good challenge.

"When we were tested at the national level, it was mostly on general chemistry," Xu said. "Here 50 percent of the stuff we learn is on organic chemistry, which I'm not that familiar with. I've learned quite a bit."

Gardner said around 11,000 students took the initial exam for the program. The second exam was narrowed down to 1,000 students, took place in April and consisted of a 60-question, multiple-choice exam; an eight-question, free-response exam and two-question lab practical. Gardner said based on the results of that exam, the top 20 students were invited to attend the study camp here.

Three faculty mentors and one peer mentor assisted with the camp. Kelli Slunt, the head mentor of the group said she felt fortunate to work with the students.

"It's been a wonderful experience to work with kids on this caliber," Slunt said. "They're sweet kids and have great personalities."

Gardner said the camp was first held in 1984 and has always been at the Academy.
"I know that these students typically have little or no knowledge of the military and most walk away with a highly favorable opinion of the Academy and the Air Force," Gardner said. "The program coordinator at American Chemical Society has been very blunt in saying she doesn't want this camp held anywhere else due to the level of support that we provide and experience and continuity we have."

High school senior and third-time returning competitor, Timothy Lee, said he appreciates that the event is at the Academy.

"I'm really attracted to the people here and the atmosphere is a really appealing learning environment," Lee said. "From these competitions, you make connections and friends. It's not just tests the whole time, and it's also a place where you can have fun."

This week competitors will take a series of exams and lab practicals to determine the top four students who will compete in the international competition July 21-30 in Washington D.C.