Perth chemistry students catalyse on world stage

While most Year 12 students have enough on their plate studying for their end of year exams, two Perth schoolgirls will see in Term three testing their chemistry knowledge on the world stage.

Perth Modern School students Hui Min Tay and Hyerin Park are competing in the International Chemistry Olympiad—which kicks off today—in Azerbaijan after being selected from a pool of 3900 other students to represent Australia.

The competition will see the world’s smartest kids pitted against each other, with students from 80 countries competing in practical and theoretical examinations to take home gold for their country.

Hui Min, 17, and Hyerin, 16, have spent months cramming chemistry techniques and theory that go far beyond their high school textbooks.

The pair were selected for a two-week Australian Science Innovations-run summer camp at the Australian National University, where they trained for the Olympiad and honed their practical skills.

The girls ranked in the top four students at the camp, leading to their selection for the international competition.

They are the only two students representing WA.

“It’s a really enjoyable experience meeting new people who are really interested in chemistry and getting to do these experiments that we definitely wouldn’t be able to do in school,” Hui Min says.

Competition training produces pretty and annoying results
Hyerin says she is both excited and nervous about the Olympiad and has spent a lot of time preparing for the event.

“We’re expecting titrations, a straight-forward acid-base or redox titration, so we’ve been doing a few of those with various indicators, which is at times quite annoying and at time quite pretty,” she says.

“[We’ve done] quite a few organic syntheses…and chemical kinetics, so measuring the actual activity of various samples after periods of time to see how the chemicals react with each other.”

Hyerin hails from a family of scientists—her father is a geochemist and her mother is a science education researcher—and she hopes to study biochemistry next year on a path to working in medicine or pharmacy.

Hui Min is torn between a career in medicine or chemical engineering.

The competition is not limited to chemistry, with science Olympiads held this year in Denmark (International Biology Olympiad), India (International Physics Olympiad) and Brazil (International Earth Science Olympiad).

Almost half the students selected for the 2015 Australian team are girls, the highest number of female participants since Australia joined the competition.

This article was first published at Particle.