Chemistry Olympiad Students Make P-CEP History

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All students at the Park are passionate about something. For some, it is playing soccer; others feel their best when singing on a stage. For Claudia Chen, Salem senior, and Vishal Nayak, Canton junior, their passion is chemistry.

“I have loved chemistry ever since 7th grade. T the thing I love most is how it combines theoretical & conceptual understanding with mathematical reasoning & calculations, which are two of my favorite things to learn about and study,” said Nayak.

“I think the fact that we can’t know everything is what makes science so interesting. I also think that chemistry is fascinating because chemistry is everywhere in life and there’s an infinite number of combinations to put chemicals together, and each of these combinations have different properties,” added Chen.

Chen and Nayak have qualified for the National Exam for United States National Chemistry Olympiad (USNCO). According to their website, the main objective of the USNCO is the selection of the four members to represent the United States at the International Chemistry Olympiad (IChO) held this year in Bratislava, Slovakia and Prague.

Chen and Nayak first took the local section exam in March, in which the top 12 were selected from Detroit, and then moved on to the National exam on April 19.

They are the third and fourth ever to do so from P-CCS, and only about 1000 people across the country take the national exam.

“The local exam is after school, it’s a 70 multiple-choice question test.  Most local exams are 60, but our section is very competitive so they add in an extra 10 really hard questions to get better separation,” said Scott Milam, Plymouth chemistry teacher.

Milam has been helping Chen and Nayak prepare for their exams and learn the extra material necessary. “The exams are all really challenging.  I’ve taken a few of the national exams while preparing earlier qualifiers and I got a 51/60, 54/60 and 58/60 on the last three I took after studying quite a bit myself,” said Milam, “The national exam that Claudia and Vishal will take is pretty brutal. It is 60 MC questions, 8 free response questions and 2 lab problems that take about 5-6 hours total.”

Just as a football player will practice for hours before a big game, Nayak and Chen have been working hard to prepare for their exams. “My preparation for the first exam mostly involved reviewing my notes from AP Chemistry, taking practice tests, and doing the practice problems at the Chem Olympiad meetings. While this was sufficient to qualify for the national exam, I know that I will have to work much harder to do well on it,” said Nayak, “My plan is to work with Claudia and Mr. Milam to go deeper into some chemistry concepts that I have a surface level understanding of.”

Nayak and Chen are excited to have this opportunity to test their skills against some of the brightest kids in the nation, and help fellow students next year.

“Looking ahead into the future, my experience with this competition will really help me coach other kids at PCEP next year and hopefully help them to qualify for the national exam as well,” said Nayak.

Even if she doesn’t pass the exam, Chen hopes to expand her knowledge of chemistry.

Milam is very excited that his student, Chen, qualified for the national exam.

“She has been my student for three of the last four years in chemistry, IB Chemistry HL 1 and IB Chemistry HL 2,” Milam said. “She’s an excellent teacher and is an amazing student to have because she constantly stretches the lesson to the point where she can find something she doesn’t understand. She’s currently working on creating simulations using coding and her work is brilliant.  Claudia led our chemistry Olympiad meetings this year where she would prepare lessons on topics for students in AP and IB chemistry currently to learn about.”

If Nayak and Chen make the top 20 of the national exam, they will be able to attend the Olympiad Study Camp at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. The four members of the US team are then chosen after ten days of intense studying at the camp.

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