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College of Arts and Sciences

  • Students and mentors at chemistry contest

Mixing up gold medals

Chemistry instructor leads high school students to international success

The Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry is home to one of the world’s best chemistry coaches. And she has the gold medal to prove it.

Organic chemistry instructor Silvia Atim led the nation’s high school chemistry team, coaching it to victory at the 50th International Chemistry Olympiad in Bratislava, Slovakia and Prague, Czech Republic in July. The international event gathered 300 of the brightest young chemists across the globe.

“Our team won four gold medals. Only one other nation—China—achieved the same performance level as the United States,” says Atim, who was one of three mentors for the U.S. team. “The students ranked 4th, 10th, 12th and 13th overall. This was the strongest performance the U.S. has ever had in this competition.”

Participants that medal in the competition represent students who will attend the world’s top universities and are considered to be the future Nobel Prize winners. The United States Chemistry Olympiad Team included four high school students selected out of 17,000 possible scholars.

“I’m very proud of how well the scholars represented the nation at this competition. They are some of the best chemistry students in the world,” says Atim. “All four of them have very bright futures, and I am excited to see what the future holds for the organization and the competition.”

Atim represented Romania’s International Chemistry Olympiad team when she was in high school and used her experience in the competition to teach and train the United States’ team this summer. After applying for the position, she went through a series of interviews with the American Chemical Society, which sponsors the U.S. team.

“I wanted to continue to be a part of the Olympiad because I experienced it myself. I have the advantage of and opportunity to combine chemistry and techniques of different cultures,” she says.

Atim and two colleagues prepared possible competitors by teaching them different chemistry concepts that were proposed by the Olympiad’s host country. They sent out difficult preparatory problems that covered a wide range of topics to help students understand the chemical concepts. They composed, graded and explained exams to students and helped them build laboratory skills so they could successfully compete in the experimental part of the exam.

Throughout June, Atim trained the United States’ best 20 students at the National Chemistry Olympiad Camp at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. At the end of the camp, Atim and her colleagues selected students for the U.S. team at the international competition.

“This event is like the Super Bowl of intelligence but on a worldwide scale,” said Atim. “It is amazing to still be a part of it and be able to share my knowledge and love of chemistry with students all over the nation.”

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