Education International, Vol. 1, No. 1, 23-25, Published in August
1999 Chemistry Olympiad
and the New Zealand Experience
of Chemistry, University of Canterbury, New Zealand
has been a tough year for the Chemistry Olympiad organisation. The
principal cause has been the withdrawal of MORST funding and a drying
up of corporate support. Yet we persevered, and at the last moment
the day before the team left for Thailand, we learnt of a
grant of $25,000 from the Minister's Discretionary Fund from the
Lottery Board, which we will share with the Mathematics and Physics
Olympiad organisations. The Chemistry Olympiad's share will be $6,500.
A grant of $3,000 was also received from the New Zealand Institute
record number of 120 students sat the training group selection examination
in October, 1998. Offers were made to 32 students to join the training
group. During the first term of 1999, the group received training
material, fortnightly assignments and sat two tests. The lack of
funding meant that a residential training/selection camp could not
be held. Our compromise was to hold a split camp half in Auckland
and half in Christchurch, with out-of-town students being billeted
with a local student. Sheila Woodgate and Robert Maclagan swapped
locations in the middle of the week so that each group received
the same input. Twenty one students participated in the training
camp. The training camp had the usual format of two lectures, two
problem sessions and a laboratory session each day. In Christchurch
keen students from local schools were invited to participate in
the laboratory sessions and about 20 students joined the Olympiad
training group students. At the end of the week a selection examination
was sat. This exam did not clearly distinguish four potential students,
so a group of six students was chosen to receive some more training
material and sit another examination two weeks later. About six
other members of the training group were hard on their heels. The
second examination allowed the choice of Desmond Chun Fung Chik
(Auckland Grammar School), Tim King (Wellington College), Richard
Kramer (Westlake Boys' High School, Auckland) and Stephen McCracken
(Avondale College, Auckland) as the 1999 New Zealand Chemistry Olympiad
team. The non-travelling reserves were James Keenan (Wanganui Collegiate)
and Ben Ting Chiang Yi (Glenfield College, Auckland).
the second term the team received weekly training material and assignments.
The team gathered in Auckland on 1 July for a day in the laboratory
at Auckland University before flying out to Bangkok on 2 July. A
number of European delegates were surprised to find that we actually
took longer to reach Bangkok than they did. We had a day to recover
from travel and do some last minute training. That afternoon we
met our team guide, Maytawee (Mae) Kaewwichai. That evening, Mae
took us to a shopping mall, introducing some of us to the photo
sticker machines, beloved by young Thais. The next day, Mae took
us to a mall solely devoted to computer software and hardware. For
our return journey Mae had a friend who drove an ambulance van to
take us back to the hotel. The return journey, using tollways, took
20 minutes whereas the journey in took an hour! That evening, a
Welcome Dinner was held. It was also Stephen's 18th birthday. 300
people sang 'Happy Birthday' to him and a cake, with candles, organised
by Mae, was presented to him.
Opening Ceremony, held at Kasetsart University, was presided over
by Professor Dr H.R.H. Princess Chulabhorn, a natural products organic
chemist, and youngest daughter of King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Queen
Sirikit. The Olympiad was part of the celebration of the 72nd birthday
the 6th cycle anniversary, of the King. Each team, with its
guide, marched across the stage and bowed to the Princess, while
slides illustrating the country were displayed on screens.
the ceremony and lunch, the students and mentors were separated,
with the mentors first inspecting the laboratory set up. The laboratory
examination was held in an impressive new laboratory building at
Kasetsart University. The mentors then travelled to King Mongkut's
Institute of Technology, Ladkrabang for the first Jury session.
The two laboratory exercises were the kinetics of the acid catalysed
iodine-acetone reaction which involved a iodine-thiosulphate titration,
and a steam distillation of a natural product followed by qualitative
organic analysis tests and NMR structure determination. The distillation
used microscale apparatus. The use of microscale apparatus in an
examination taken by high school students is likely to be the subject
of debate at future Olympiads.
came the "translation". The English-speaking mentors aimed
to produce a common examination script. This year the translation
from the "official" English version took until about 4:30
a.m., not helped by not saving the original version with a different
name and having the file overwritten just when it was nearly ready
to print. Then we had a 45 minute bus trip back to our hotel. I
had just got into bed and turned the light out when the phone range
with a wake-up call! Some mentors went straight to breakfast and
on to a tour that included the Grand Palace, and the Golden Teakwood
Palace. Others joined them later in the day.
next day was devoted to the preparation of the theoretical examination.
The eight English speaking countries, who were joined this year
by India for the first time, were better organised and caught the
first bus back to the hotel. The examination included questions
on thermochemistry, freezing point depression, acid-base equilibria,
Beer Lambert law, radioactive decay, coordination chemistry, structure
determination of a natural product, and peptide chemistry. Topics
outside the normal high school syllabus had been covered in Preparatory
the day of the theoretical exam, the Olympiad paper, the Catalyser,
interviewed the New Zealand team. While the students tackled these
problems, the mentors visited the old capital of Ayutthaya. On different
days the students visited the Grand Palace, Ayutthaya, Safari World,
and a Sea Turtle Conservatory. On the penultimate day the mentors
engaged in the arbitration process, sometimes gaining more marks,
while at other times having marks taken away. At the final Jury
session, Sheila Woodgate was elected to the Steering Committee of
the Olympiad as the representative of the Pacific Rim countries.
The medal cuts were decided in less than a minute.
the last day the closing ceremony was presided over by Professor
Dr H.R.H. Princess Chulabhorn. Teams do not know what medals have
been won until they are announced. To our delight we won three bronze
medals, a result equalling the Netherlands and Slovakia. The team
member who missed out, Stephen McCracken was suffering from an upset
stomach during the theoretical exam, yet managed to be 5th non-medallist.
The New Zealand team, on the basis of marks, was 25th out of 51
countries competing, just ahead of Italy and just behind Ireland.
The result is outstanding for a small country. The majority of countries
ahead of New Zealand receive large government grants for their Olympiad
organisations allowing more training of their teams.
wish to acknowledge support from the Minister of Internal Affairs,
the N.Z.I.C., Thermoplastic Engineering, and the families and schools
of the students. We also wish to acknowledge the continued support
of the departments of Chemistry of the University of Auckland and
the University of Canterbury.