Inside USD

Chemistry Competition Helps Students Reach Olympian Heights

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

If you thought trying out for the Olympics seemed tough, just look at what high school students go through to compete in the International Chemistry Olympiad.

The competition starts with some 11,000 high school students from around the country, including 100 at the University of San Diego, who take an exam at the local level. Out of those, some 900 are chosen for a rigorous six-hour national exam that includes multiple choice, written questions and a laboratory assignment. From that, 20 students are invited to the U.S. National Chemistry Study Camp and then just four are chosen to represent the United States at the Chemistry Olympiad.

And for the past two years, one of the 20 students is from San Diego. Alex Chang, a senior at Torrey Pines High School, will be making his second trip in two years to the study camp at the U.S. Air Force Academy in early June. Chang is excited at the prospect of making the team and competing at the 41st annual Olympiad which will take place in July in Cambridge, England. Being chosen would mean “reaching a high goal that I’ve set for myself,” he said.

Debbie Tahmassebi, USD associate professor of chemistry and biochemisty, coordinates the local competition at USD and other community outreach events as chair of the education committee for the San Diego section of the American Chemical Society that sponors the event to stimulate and promote achievement among youth in chemistry.

“It is important that we are active and have strong connections to the local section of our professional society,” said Tahmassebi. Two other USD chemistry professors, Tammy Dwyer and Peter Iovine, also have been active on the local chapter’s board.

On May 30, USD and the local chapter will host an an awards banquet for Chang and the 13 other students who qualified to take the national exam. Earlier this month, Tahmasebi also was honored by the San Diego Science Alliance “for her exceptional efforts to enhance K-12 science education in San Diego County.”

— Liz Harman

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