For Second Year, TJ Student Wins Silver at Chemistry Olympiad
Other TJ Olympiad News
Two Students at Research Science Institute (RSI)
For the second year in a row, the only female team member on the US National Chemistry Olympiad (USNCO) team was a TJ student. Joyce Tian, TJ ’17, chosen from a group of 20 that represented the most talented high school chemists in the nation, traveled to Tbilisi, Georgia, in late July to take part in the 48th International Chemistry Olympiad (IChO). Last year, Janice Ong, TJ ’15, proudly represented TJ at the 47th IChO in Baku, Azerbaijan, and returned with a silver medal (see August 2015 issue). Following in her footsteps, Joyce came home with a silver medal of her own (see WTOP, August 2016).
The journey to a spot on the US team is a long one. For TJ students it begins at school, where interested students sit for two preliminary exams. The top-scoring students then take the Chemistry Olympiad Local Exam, also administered at TJ. The rules dictate that no more than two students from any one school may sit for the national exam, so only the top two scorers from TJ are eligible to take that exam. The other TJ student taking the national exam this year, Aadith Vitala, TJ ’17, received High Honors for scoring in the top 50.
The three-part national exam takes four hours and 45 minutes and includes theoretical questions and a lab practical. Based on their performance on this exam, the top 20 students in the country are invited to participate in a rigorous two-week study camp, held this year at the University of Mary Washington. At the end of the camp, a four-person team, plus two alternates, are chosen for the US team. At the IChO, US team members compete individually against approximately 300 other students representing 75 countries.
“I found IChO a wholly unique experience, both due to the intensely high-level chemistry concepts tested and the wide variety of people I was able to meet,” Joyce said. She became close with her roommates: “Food, study materials, and idle chatter were shared at all hours, and we became sisters in all but name. Four girls, four countries, made for one unbreakable bond,” she wrote in a piece about her experience. “Georgia was gorgeous, and our guides ensured that we explored every nook and cranny of Tbilisi. I have come out of this with a deeper appreciation for the sciences, for the world, and some life-long friends.”
This was the third year in a row that a TJ student made it to the US Biology Olympiad (USABO) study-camp national finals. Two years ago, William Long, TJ ’15, went all the way to Bali, Indonesia, as a member of the US team (see August 2014 issue). Last year Neeraj Prasad, TJ ’17, participated in the study camp. Representing TJ at this year’s study camp, held at Arlington’s Marymount University, was Ashwin Srinivasan, TJ ’17.
In 2016, 92 TJ students took the USABO Open Exam, along with approximately 10,500 high school students nationwide. Eighteen TJ students scored in the top ten percent nationally, qualifying them to take the semifinal exam in March. Based on their results on that exam, both Neeraj and Ashwin qualified for this year’s USABO study camp, but Neeraj accepted a conflicting offer to participate in Research Science Institute (RSI, below), an extremely selective summer research program held at MIT. In addition to Neeraj and Ashwin, Tiger Zhang, TJ ’16, scored in the top 50 on the USABO semifinal exam.
The 2015-2016 US Computing Olympiad (USACO) season consisted of a series of three online contests held in December, January, and February, followed by the April US Open national championships. Starting this year, contests were available in four levels of difficulty, rather than three: bronze, silver, gold, and the new platinum level. In response to numerous requests, this year’s bronze contests provided an easier entry-level experience for first-time competitors than in years past in order to encourage participation.
Based on their performance in online training pages and preliminary contests, and in particular on their performance at the US Open, 26 students were invited to a camp for finalists at Clemson University, including three from TJ: Katherine Cheng, TJ ’18, Shwetark Patel, TJ ’18, who attended last year, and Justin Zhang, TJ ’18.
The US is a relatively recent addition to the International Olympiad on Astronomy and Astrophysics (IOAA), having competed for the first time in 2013. The National Astronomy Olympiad (NAO) consists of first- and second-round exams. In lieu of a training camp, which the organizers hope to add soon, the second round exam is used to select the five-person team that will represent the US at the IOAA. This year, two TJ students qualified for the second round of the NAO: Philip Carr, TJ ’16, and James Ma, TJ ’17.
In 2016, over 4,000 students from around the country participated in the first round US Physics Olympiad (USAPhO) exam, known as F=ma, in January. The top ten percent — including eight from TJ — were invited to take the semifinal exam in March. Based primarily on their scores on the semifinal exam, 20 students were then invited to attend the USAPhO study camp held in late May through early June at the University of Maryland, where the US team that competes at the International Physics Olympiad (IPhO) was chosen. For the second year in a row, Charles Wang, TJ ’18, attended the two-week camp.
Many TJ students sit for one of the 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. More than 340,000 students participate in these school-based competitions annually. The top scorers on both exams qualify to take the American Invitational Mathematics Examination (AIME), a fifteen-question, three-hour exam that is significantly more difficult than the AMC exams. Approximately 230 top AMC10/AIME scorers qualify to take the US Junior Math Olympiad (USAJMO,) and approximately 270 top AMC12/AIME scorers qualify to take the US Math Olympiad (USAMO); both the USAMO and USAJMO are six question, essay/proof exams given over two consecutive days in late April.
This year, TJ had six USAJMO qualifiers and twelve USAMO qualifiers, the highest number of total qualifiers of any school in the country. The top twelve USAMO scorers, along with the top non-seniors from the next fifteen or so scorers, are invited to participate in the Mathematical Olympiad Summer Program (MOSP), a three-week problem-solving immersion program hosted at Carnegie Mellon University, which leads to the selection of the six-member team that represents the country at the International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO). This year, TJ had three students attending MOSP: Adam Ardeishar, TJ ’19, Akshaj Kadaveru, TJ ’18, attending for the second year, and Franklyn Wang, TJ ’18, who received a prestigious USAMO Honorable Mention.
Two Rising Seniors Attend RSI
Prathik Naidu, TJ ’17 (at left in photo, courtesy Neeraj Prasad), was “shocked and excited” when he was invited to attend MIT’s Research Science Institute (RSI), a prestigious summer program that serves as an incubator for award-winning research projects. Neeraj Prasad, TJ ’17 (at right), was “extremely surprised” when admitted and turned down a spot at the USA Biology Olympiad study camp (above) to attend the program.
At RSI 2016, 82 students from sixteen countries spent six weeks conducting original research in university laboratories, hospitals and corporate facilities under the mentorship of leading Boston-area researchers. The program included a lecture series featuring Nobel Laureates and other distinguished guests.
Prathik, who conducted computational epigenomics research at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, built programs that can predict how DNA interacts and forms 3D structures within cells. He created a tool that can efficiently and accurately predict where these 3D DNA structures form in the human genome, which has important implications for studying the development of diseases like cancer.
Neeraj conducted a computational biology project employing massive amounts of genomic data from a large sample of patients who exhibited pre-diabetic symptoms. Working at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, a major teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School, he identified genes that signaled a greater risk for developing type 2 diabetes and developed a predictor that assigned regulators to these genes. “It was amazing to work alongside and interact with world-class researchers and watch them make sense of huge amounts of data regarding the human genome,” Neeraj said. “RSI was an unforgettable experience.”
“I never thought that I would be able to accomplish this much in such a short amount of time, and RSI pushed me to my limit,” Prathik began. “Most important was being part of a community of young scientists who share a similar interest in asking questions about important scientific problems.”
Prathik credited his IBET and science fair participation for preparing him for the rigors of RSI (he was a Regional Science Fair Grand Prize winner and attended the Intel International Science & Engineering Fair as a sophomore – see June 2015 newsletter).
Echoing Prathik, Neeraj also mentioned his Neurobiology, AP Chemistry, and Multivariable Calculus/Linear Algebra classes, adding, “I don’t believe that any other school in the country has all the resources that TJ has to prepare you for a life in research.”