Dual DB chemists make nationals


Where years’ worth of preparation finally come to fruition, the annual United States National Chemistry Olympiad (USNCO) allowed students to be recognized as promising young chemists. Last month, several Diamond Bar High School students vied for the position of America’s top 20 chemists on the local level, with two advancing to the national level competition.

The host of the competition, the American Chemical Society, primarily aims to recognize and stimulate interest in chemistry, connecting schools with the national organization. To achieve this, USNCO is hosted at several approved testing spots throughout the country.

For the local exam, DBHS participants traveled to San Gorgonio earlier in March to take the local exam, a 60-question multiple-choice test to be completed in an hour and 50 minutes.

Only the top 10 in each of these testing sections—totaling approximately 1,000 examinees nationwide—can advance. From DBHS, juniors Cindy Cui and Jack Zhu moved on to take the USNCO exam at Cal State San Bernardino on April 22.

Although an average score of about 60 percent on the local test will usually suffice to take a chemist past the local stage, more competitive local sections will require its participants to score higher—a case seen commonly in California and other widely populated states in the US.

At the national level, the test switches into a complicated three-part format. Though the USNCO exam retains the multiple-choice section, it is followed by an additional free-response and lab portion, assessing one’s hands-on experience.

In preparation for the competition’s exams, the USNCO competitors studied various topics, including all parts of AP Chemistry, a semester’s worth of organic chemistry and medium-level-difficulty inorganic chemistry. Additionally, just weeks before the local competition, Zhu traveled to Missouri to compete in the Washington University Chemistry Tournament against the greatest chemistry teams in the nation, placing within the top 20 rankings for the individual score.

“Last year, I also reached the national level competition, albeit with much less confidence,” Zhu said. “Over this school year, however, I prepared much more by studying several chemistry books and practicing the past exams available on USNCO’s website.”

The school’s participants of this year’s Chemistry Olympiad were also guided extensively by the chemistry teachers on staff, particularly faculty staff members Jennifer Bravo, the contact teacher toward ACS, and Eric Sorenson, the advisor for DBHS Chem Crew. Formed last year, the club dedicates itself to helping its members prepare for the USNCO and other chemistry-related activities, much like how the USA Biology Olympiad and Physics Club supports its members’ competitive ambitions.

“I do find it a little disappointing that the Chemistry Olympiad does not receive the same level of recognition as, for example, the AMC or USABO examinations,” Zhu said. “It is, of course, certainly acceptable for everyone to pursue their own passions; to each their own. But it is strange that chemistry is seen as more of a ‘side quest,’ and I encourage everyone to just try it out.”

At the end of this school year and Chemistry Olympiad’s competition period, both Zhu and Cui swept through the test with flying colors, each placing with high honors.

“I’m delighted by this year’s results, and I can’t wait until next year to achieve even greater heights,” Zhu said. “In the meantime, I encourage everyone to try out chemistry as it’s really an underemphasized field of science.”