TJ Student Wins Silver Medal at International Chemistry Olympiad
TJ Continues as Olympiad Leader
TJ is one of a small group of high schools that consistently sends students to the highest level of national Olympiad competition and frequently sees some of those students go on to represent their country in international competition. This year, Janice Ong, TJ ’15, flew to Baku, Azerbaijan, to take part in the 47th International Chemistry Olympiad (ICHO) as a member of the US team. She came home exhilarated from her “once-in-a-lifetime experience,” excited about “how much more there is to learn.” To top it off, she received a silver medal and earned the second-highest score on the US team.
In order to obtain one of four coveted spots on the US Chemistry Olympiad team, Janice needed to outscore the competition on a series of increasingly challenging and competitive exams. TJ’s Chemistry Olympiad sponsor, Mr. Hadan Kauffman, administers two school-wide preliminary exams in January and February. Based on the results of these exams, about a dozen TJ students qualify to take the Chemistry Olympiad Local Exam, taken each year by 16,000 students nationwide. The top two scorers on that exam are eligible to take the national exam, given to DC-area students at a local university.
The three-part national exam takes four hours and 45 minutes and includes theoretical questions and a lab practical. More than 1,000 students take this exam at their local testing site each year. For the second year in a row, Janice scored among the top 20 students in the country on the national exam, earning a spot at the rigorous two-week study camp held at the US Air Force Academy. The camp is very intense, with lectures, lab work, and 25 hours of exams on advanced Chemistry topics. Based on her performance on the study camp assessments, Janice was one of four students selected to represent the US at the International Chemistry Olympiad.
“Chemistry Olympiad has been a very intellectually rewarding experience for me,” Janice said. “It always feels like the farther you go into the subject, the more nuanced your understanding becomes – you realize there are breaking points for many of the approximations you used to rely on, and you learn how to work around them; you start to see organic molecules not just as structures but begin thinking of ways they might be synthesized. The last time a TJ student made the US team for the ICHO was in 1999, so I was really excited and honored to represent the US and TJ at the International Chemistry Olympiad and enjoyed meeting many other students who share the same passion about the subject. In addition to meeting people from around the globe, my team members and I visited the city of Baku and Azerbaijani landmarks such as the Maiden Tower. The exams themselves were long and probably the hardest ones I’ve taken, but it has been a really good experience to be challenged to such a level this early in my career.”
Last year, William Long, TJ ’15, traveled to Bali, Indonesia for the International Biology Olympiad (IBO) as a member of the US Biology Olympiad (USABO) team, where he was awarded 5th place in individual competition (second from right with US team members and coaches; see August 2014 issue). It was his second time as a national finalist. This year, Neeraj Prasad, TJ ’17, made it to the study-camp national finals.
TJ’s Biology Olympiad Team administers the USABO Open Exam in February to all interested students. In 2015, 95 TJ students took the first-round exam, which was taken simultaneously by almost 10,500 high school students nationwide. Twenty-six TJ students scored in the top ten percent nationally, qualifying them to take the semifinal exam in March. The top-20 scorers on that exam were invited to Purdue University for ten days of instruction that included “animal and plant dissections, molecular biology lab practice, and lectures on topics ranging from Biochemistry to the fruit fly,” according to Neeraj, followed by two days of testing that included a three-hour theoretical exam and a six-hour practical.
Physics Olympiad Wrap-Up
The TJ Physics Team, which proudly states on its website that TJ has produced “more members of the US Physics Team than any other high school in the nation,” administers the preliminary (F=ma) and semifinal exams each spring. In 2015, approximately 4,400 students from around the country participated in the F=ma exam, with the top 360 scorers — including eight from TJ — invited to take the semifinal exam. The top 20 scorers on the semifinal exam were then invited to attend the US Physics Olympiad (USAPhO) study camp at the University of Maryland, where the US team that competes at the International Physics Olympiad (IPhO) is chosen. Three study camp participants were from TJ: Shankar Balasubramanian, TJ ’15, Allen Cheng, TJ ’16, and Charles Wang, TJ ’18.
“My initial impression of Physics was pure apprehension,” Shankar said, “but Physics team helped me realize that Physics is as intuitive as any other subject. I learned to enjoy the subject by interacting with my peers — discussing concepts, working out devious problems, bouncing off ideas. . . . For all that and for providing me with opportunities such as attending camp, I thank my fellow officers and passionate members. I am forever in debt.”
Computing Olympiad Wrap-Up
A US Computing Olympiad (USACO) season typically consists of five online preliminary contests, followed by the US Open national championships. Contests are offered in bronze, silver, and gold divisions. All participants start in the bronze division, and those who score particularly well are promoted to the next division. TJ students typically hear about the US Computing Olympiad (USACO) online contests through Senior Computer Team, which tracks students’ progress in these and other contests on their website. Based on their performance in online training pages and preliminary contests, and in particular on their performance at the US Open, approximately 20 students are invited to a camp for finalists at Clemson University. After competing in six more contests at Clemson, the top performers are selected to represent their country at the International Olympiad in Informatics (IOI). This year, Corwin de Boor, TJ ’15, and Shwetark Patel, TJ ’18, were among the two dozen USACO finalists.
Math Olympiad Wrap-Up
Whether or not they participate on TJ’s Varsity Math Team, most TJ students take at least one of the two preliminary Math Olympiad exams offered during the school day in February: AMC10, which may be taken by any 9th or 10th grade student, and AMC12, which may be taken by any student. The top scorers on both exams qualify to take the American Invitational Mathematics Examination (AIME), a 15-question, three-hour exam. This year, TJ had an amazing 118 AIME qualifiers. Top AMC10/AIME scorers qualify to take the US Junior Math Olympiad (USAJMO,) and top AMC12/AIME scorers qualify to take the US Math Olympiad (USAMO); both are six question, two-day, nine-hour essay/proof exams. In addition to five USAJMO qualifiers, TJ had thirteen USAMO qualifiers this year, more than any other high school.
Students scoring in the top twelve on the USAMO are automatically invited to attend the Mathematical Olympiad Summer Program (MOSP) study camp. Top-scoring non-seniors are also invited. The intensive program prepares students in areas of mathematics that are traditionally emphasized more in other countries than in the US, and results in the selection of the six-member team that represents the country at the International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO). Four TJ students were invited to participate in MOSP this year: Sam Hsiang, TJ ’16, Akshaj Kadaveru, TJ ’18, Katherine Cheng, TJ ’18, and Lilian Wang, TJ ’18.