By Nina Johnson

The American Chemical Society has selected Carmel High School junior David Liang for the four-student U.S. team heading for the International Chemistry Olympiad in Moscow July 15-24.

Liang attended a two-week study camp at Colorado’s U.S. Air Force Academy where he competed as one of the nation’s top 20 students to earn this team position.

In 2012, Liang competed with nearly 12,000 U.S. students during local and regional exams where his scores earned him a nomination to compete in the three-part, four-and-a-half hour national exam.  He ranked in the nation’s top 20 and, though he competed at camp, did not make the 2012 team.

Earning his way into last year’s camp qualified Liang to skip regionals and take the lengthy national exam again this year.  He decided to take the regional exam “to gauge (his) weak points.” At April’s national exam, he competed against 900 students and qualified for this year’s study camp and another chance at the Olympiad team.

“When I heard that I was chosen for the (2013) camp, I felt a bit of disbelief that I had actually made it this far to be able to represent the U.S.,” Liang said.

At camp, days began at 6 a.m. with breakfast in the dining hall followed by four hours of lectures.

“A fairly good indicator of expertise is how involved (a student) is in the lectures, especially the organic lectures,” Liang said.

He enjoyed the graduate-level lectures.

“I learned something new from every one of them,” he said.

Frequent assessment exams weighed heavily in determining who made the team.  Liang pointed out students remained uncertain of their progress because “the scores are never explicitly revealed.”

Four hours of lab work filled every afternoon.

“It’s difficult to gauge the lab abilities of others because you’re usually busy with your own lab work,” Liang said.

In the evenings, students studied in the dormitory or took a moment to socialize.  For a rare break from the classroom, Liang and fellow chemistry campers climbed the red rock formations at the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs.

The American Chemical Society announced “the group of six” on the final Saturday.  This select group of finalists remained at camp for three more days of lessons and assessments.  On the last day, the new 2013 Olympiad team and two alternates are named.

“There was a surreal aura to the whole experience,” Liang said. “There was actually talk among the team about having to wait for the fact that we made the team to really sink in.”

Liang will maintain online contact with team members to prepare for the international competition. “The closest (teammate) to me lives about four hours away.”

“I am first brushing up on my organic chemistry,” Liang said. “It was not my forte at camp.”

He also will practice exercises and pre-tests based on problems expected at the International Olympiad.

Chemistry skills will be tested during a 10-hour exam: five hours of laboratory exercises plus a five-hour written theoretical examination. Participants will compete for Olympiad medals.

Moscow State University will welcome student teams from 75 countries for this July’s 45th international competition.  This is Moscow’s third time hosting the event and plans include opening with a remarkable fireworks show.

On the event’s website, Valery Lunin, Dean of the Moscow State University’s Chemistry Dept., explained the competition will take up two days while the remaining nine remain open for professional networking.

“Hospitality is a true Russian feature,” wrote Lunin.

Participants are encouraged to build contacts with students from around the world and professionals in the chemistry field.  Students also experience local culture through organized field trips and social events.

Liang is looking forward to the trip and said, “I am very grateful for my teachers, for local ACS coordinators, and for mentors, and camp organizers and instructors for all their help.”

He noted his journey began his 2011 freshman year when his national score ranked him in the top 150 but offered no camp opportunity.

“I haven’t really settled on a specific career and am open to a lot of paths,” Liang said.  “I will probably choose an area related to science or math, since those are what interest me.”

David Liang (far left) enjoyed the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs with camp friends Stephen Li of Troy High School, Detroit, MI; Runpeng Liu of Ladue Horton Watkins High School, St. Louis, MO; and Stephen Ting of Monta Vista High School, Santa Clara Valley, CA.

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