Rio Mesa students qualify for National Chemistry Olympiad test

Boys are doing the experiment.
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© Richard Gillard/Acorn Newspapers
Rio Mesa students Greg Schein, 17, and Evan Crook, 17, both from Camarillo, qualified to take a national test for the International Chemistry Olympiad. The boys were two out of 1,000 students in the nation to qualify. © Richard Gillard/Acorn Newspapers
Three pennies, four dimes, two nickels and two Japanese yen coins. This may seem like a hodgepodge of change, but for two Rio Mesa High School students it’s a test that could have them competing in chemistry across the world.

Students Greg Schein and Evan Crook used the change to build a battery as part of the 2011 U.S. National Chemistry Olympiad test, a multitiered competition that brings together the world’s brightest high school chemistry students to test their skill.

The test was last Saturday at Westmont College, and seven people from Ventura County to San Luis Obispo County qualified to take it.

The national test, hosted by the American Chemical Society, determines who qualifies for a spot on the U.S. team in the International Chemistry Olympiad in Ankara, Turkey, this July.

“ It encourages excellence in science and math,” said Dr. Stephen Contakes, an assistant chemistry professor at Westmont College and local coordinator for the national test. “Other academics and sports are recognized with honors, and this provides a way to encourage that same interest in the sciences. It also provides a vehicle for the secondary schools to interact with the broader (science) professional community.”

To find the best team to send to Turkey, high school students were screened in a local test. The highest scoring 1,000 students in the nation were selected to take the national test.

Three students from RMHS qualified: Greg Schein, Evan Crook and Daniel Corbett. A maximum of two students from one school can participate so seniors Greg and Evan took the test because they had the highest scores. All three students are involved in the International Baccalaureate (IB) program for chemistry.

“I was very proud of them,” said Corene Duarte, RMHS IB chemistry teacher. “For them to score so well and to be invited to take the national test says they’re already the best of the best in high school-level chemistry in the country right now.”

The national test is made up of three parts. The first part is a 90-minute multiple-choice exam, which covers an array of chemistry topics. For the second part, students must answer eight free-response questions in 105 minutes about in-depth chemical theories with multistep problems. The final section gives students 75 minutes to solve two laboratory practical exams.

“It’s not just about solving problems in a book,” Duarte said. “They have to be able to apply the equations to real-life situations, and they obviously did well. The IB program is a very hands-on program.”

Greg and Evan said the IB curriculum helped to prepare them for the test. Neither spent much time studying more material, they said, but instead studied how to take the test. Both said the short answer section was the most difficult because it was based on in-depth knowledge of chemistry and physics.

“I learned that there’s a lot more to chemistry that we don’t know yet,” Evan said. “But it was a nice opportunity to be up at that level.”

Greg said the IB program is beneficial at RMHS because the program includes two years of chemistry instead of one.

But because the program is relatively new to the campus, he said, there are few classes offered and therefore difficult to fit into the schedule, especially for students also participating in sports.

Greg said the entire IB chemistry class at RMHS scored above average on the local test.

“I was happy that our class did well because it shows that we are getting something out of (the IB program) and you’re actually up there (in the highest scores) and it feels great,” Greg said.

Of the 1,000 students who took the national test, the top 20 will be chosen to attend a twoweek study camp at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado in June. Greg and Evan will be notified in a few weeks if they scored a spot at the study camp. Those students will compete to win a spot on the four-member team who will represent the United States in at the International Chemistry Olympiad.

Greg and Evan will graduate from RMHS in June and will both major in computer science in college.

“I like the idea of creating something that might be useful in some time,” Greg said. “Computer science seems interesting because computers are the future.”

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