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Top high school chemists hit Academy labs

Photo by Rachel Boettcher John Rosenberg from Barrington High School, Barrington, Illinois, combines precise amounts of reagents together during a recrystallization experment in the Department of Chemistry labs here last week. Rosenberg is one of 20 teenage chemists here for the chemistry olympiad training camp, competing for one of four spots on the U.S. team which travels to the international Chemistry Olympiad in England next month.

Photo by Rachel Boettcher John Rosenberg from Barrington High School, Barrington, Illinois, combines precise amounts of reagents together during a recrystallization experment in the Department of Chemistry labs here last week. Rosenberg is one of 20 teenage chemists here for the chemistry olympiad training camp, competing for one of four spots on the U.S. team which travels to the international Chemistry Olympiad in England next month.

Academy Public Affairs

Twenty of the nation’s top teenage chemists are putting the Academy’s Department of Chemistry through its paces.

The Chemistry department is hosting the 41st annual Chemistry Olympiad’s summer training camp here, which started June 3 and continues through Thursday.

In conjunction with the American Chemical Society, the Academy’s chemistry department has supported this camp for the past 25 years.

“In terms of the Air Force Academy, this is a very high profile event and receives national attention,” said Dr. Kim Gardner, associate professor in the chemistry department and camp director.

In the comments the Academy’s received over the years, one message has been clear — the Air Force Academy is the only place that could support this program with the depth and quality that has been accomplished here for the past quarter-century, she said.

Slots in the chemistry training camp here are highly competitive. The 18 boys and two girls who won the final 20 spots did so from a competitive pool of more than 11,000 high school students nationwide.

“These kids are so bright that they really push us to lecture at their level – they study college level chemistry, not high school chemistry,” said Dr. Gardner.

The teenagers participate in classroom lectures and laboratory exercises covering analytical, organic, inorganic, physical and bio chemistry.

“In organic chemistry they are told to read the first eight chapters of their textbook before they even get here,” said Dr. Gardner.  That would take half a semester with our two-degrees.”

From these 20 chemists, four will be chosen for the final team which will represent the United States at the International Chemistry Olympiad. The four finalists will represent the United States during the international competition in Cambridge, England, July 18-27, and compete against teams from 65 other countries.

The American Chemical Society sponsors the U.S. team.

“The ACS is proud of its Olympiad contenders who are representative of the best chemistry students in this country,” said ACS President Thomas H. Lane, Ph.D., a strong supporter of science education.“ The Olympiad program is a way to stimulate interests in science among thousands of students. More than 154,000 ACS members are dedicated to engaging students in the wonders of chemistry and to the development of our next generation of scientific leaders.”

The U.S. team has been a strong competitor at the international event. The 2008 team won one silver and three bronze medals. In 1999 and 2000, the U.S. team won the gold medal.

The 2009 competitors are being mentored by chemistry teachers Linda Wood, Lowndes High School, Valdosta, Ga.; Jack Kotz, State University of New York, Oneonta, N.Y.; Kristin Fletcher, of the Academy’s Department of Chemistry; and Andrew Freddo, 2006 silver medal winner of the International Chemistry Olympiad and now a student at the California Institute of Technology.

The International Chemistry Olympiad began with Czechoslovakia, Poland and Hungary in 1968. Other Western and European countries joined later, with the United States first participating in 1984.

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