High School Chemistry Olympiad

The Southern California Section of the American Chemical Society has been offering the Chemistry Contest since 1914, at which time Nordhoff High School was the top scoring school. It became the High School Chemistry Olympiad in 1968 when National ACS began sponsoring it. In 2008, the Section won a National award for 25 years of continuous support of the Chemistry Olympiad. In 2014, we celebrated 100 years of offering the High School Contest. The Southern California Section has the longest running contest in American Chemical Society history.

The Chemistry Olympiad is a way for the Section to locate and recognize high achieving students and mentor them in chemistry. Each year, we offer the test at over 30 high school campuses all over Los Angeles County. The test is designed to test a student’s knowledge of a wide variety of topics in chemistry. The top scorers on the local exam are nominated to compete in the National Exam. The top 20 national winners are invited to attend an all expense paid two-week study camp. The top four finalists from the camp are then selected to represent the United States at the International Chemistry Olympiad which is held in a different country each year. We recognize the top local students at an Educational Awards Banquet in May with monetary awards and certificates.

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The 2021 High School Olympiad

The Southern California Section of the American Chemical Society plans on giving the local section High School Olympiad Exam in March, 2021. In light of the continued uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the possibility that reopening may not be uniform across the nation, both the Local Section and National Exams will be offered virtually in 2021. The laboratory portion of the National Exam will be omitted again this year. Decisions will be made about the USNCO Study Camp and the IChO closer to March 15, 2021.

Various new resources and program changes to help coordinators, teachers, and students will be provided this year. Final details will be shared as they become available by email and on the USNCO website. Here are some dates that might be of interest to teachers and students:

  • October, 2020 – February, 2021 – Coaching sessions for students – see below
  • December TBD, 2020 – How to Help Students Prepare for USNCO
  • January TBD, 2021 – Webinar for Students – How to Learn Chemistry
  • March 27, 2021 – Digital Local Section Exam
  • April 17, 2021 – Digital National Exam, Part I
  • April 24, 2021 – Digital National Exam, Part II
  • May 31 – June 11, 2021 – Likely dates of Study Camp – to be announced after March 15, 2021
  • July 24, 2021 – International Chemistry Olympiad

A Zoom meeting will be held introducing students, teachers, and coordinators to a USNCO course within the ACS Learning Center (hosted by Moodle), which will also serve as a learning resource throughout 2021. This will be scheduled for February 19, 2021. Instructions to access to the course page (but not the exams) will be distributed early 2021.

USNCO is also offering NEW – Coaching Sessions:

Coaching sessions will be organized over Zoom and coordinated by the ACS staff. Coaches will be High School Teachers. Coaches will be compensated. Up to 20 coaches will be recruited and each coach will work with no more than five high school students at a time. Coaching sessions will last for two hours on Fridays near the end of the month leading up to the USNCO Local Section Exam. Further details will be provided to students who are selected for coaching.
Current high school teachers are invited to nominate up to 10 students to take advantage of each of these coaching sessions. Students may not sign up directly.

Nominations will be accepted until Friday, October 23, 2020.
Students will be informed if they will receive coaching by Tuesday, October 27, 2020.

Who is a good candidate for coaching?
– A student who has previously been nominated to take the National Exam
– A student enrolled/previously enrolled in advanced chemistry courses
– A student who has not previously attended USNCO Study Camp.

Nominations of students who are female, African-American, Hispanic, Native American, Pacific Islanders, or from other groups not currently well represented among National Exam nominees are particularly encouraged.

What is the schedule of coaching sessions?
Friday, October 30, 2020 – 7:00 PM – 9:00 PM ET
Friday, November 20, 2020 – 7:00 PM – 9:00 PM ET
Friday, December 18, 2020 – 7:00 PM – 9:00 PM ET
Friday, January 29, 2021 – 7:00 PM – 9:00 PM ET
Friday, February 26, 2021 – 7:00 PM – 9:00 PM ET

Teachers, learn more about this opportunity here and nominate students:

Apply to be a USNCO Coach here:

For more information abut the USNCO Support Programs:

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The 2020 High School Olympiad
The Great Isolation of the COVID-19 Pandemic almost caused the local section qualifying exam to be canceled, until a volunteer figured out how to hold the exam online in a secure environment. Nearly 780 high school students took this exam, and 15 of those top performers took the National ACS semi-finals exam, also in a virtual environment. Those students are:

*Gordon He Guo Arcadia High School
**Alex Dang Arcadia High School
Tyler Weigand Harvard-Westlake
Aaron Zhao Harvard-Westlake
*Phillip Jeong Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies
Sameer Nayyar Loyola High School
Matthew Kim Loyola High School
Theodore Dupont North Hollywood High School
*Albert Zhang North Hollywood High School
*Akash Anand Palos Verdes Peninsula High School
Jia Hu San Marino High School
*Sunjae Kim West Torrance High School
*Randall Scharpf West Torrance High School
Kenneth Nguyen Whitney High School
Harry Yaun Whitney High School
  • denotes students who qualified for Part II of the National Exam on May 3rd. All 15 students took Part I on April 26th.

Alex Dang, from Arcadia High School qualified to attend the virtual Study Camp. Four students from around the country were selected from there to go on to the virtual International competition at which the US Team won four gold medals.

On May 27, 2020, we were delighted to present our first virtual local section High School Chemistry Olympiad Awards Ceremony, in which we honored the top performers for the local qualifying exam, as well as those who went on to the semi-finals, finals, and the National Study Camp. Frances Arnold, Nobel Laureate, was kind enough to give the students a pre-recorded greeting, and Luis Echegoyan, 2020 ACS President, gave closing remarks. Those videos are shown below.

Greetings from Frances Arnold:

Congratulations from Luis Echegoyan:

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The Southern California is pleased to announce that Albert Liu of North Hollywood High School has won a silver medal at the 2019 International Chemistry Olympiad in Paris in July.

Left to right: Edward Jin, Anton Ni, Yajvan Ravan and Albert Liu. Credit: Melissa Barranger-Mathys

Here is the announcement from ACS:

U.S. team brings home gold and silver from the 51st International Chemistry Olympiad

WASHINGTON, July 31, 2019 — The American Chemical Society (ACS) is proud to announce that the four high school chemistry whiz kids representing the U.S. at the annual International Chemistry Olympiad (IChO) earned three gold medals and one silver.

The members of the team are:

Yajvan Ravan, Churchill High School, Westland, Michigan, gold medal, placed 19th

Anton Ni, University High School, Irvine, California, gold medal, placed 28th

Edward Jin, Arnold O. Beckman High School, Irvine, California, gold medal, placed 30th

Albert Liu, North Hollywood High School, Porter Ranch, California, silver medal, placed 59th

More than 300 students from 80 countries competed this year.

Speaking with ACS’ newsmagazine Chemical & Engineering News, Ni says, “I think my favorite part about the competition is staying up at night just chatting with people. You learn a lot about people from other countries, and you discover that they’re also really passionate about chemistry — and you learn so much about them as people and as chemists.”

“Even though we all have different languages, different cultures, we can still all bond over chemistry,” Jin says.

Regarding the 100-degree temperatures in Paris recently, Liu says, “It’s been quite difficult handling the heat.”

Ravan enjoyed the opportunity to visit the Palace of Versailles. “I was impressed by how big and luxurious [Versailles] was,” he says. “I was totally blown away by it.”

ACS has sponsored the American team annually since the U.S. joined the Olympiad in 1984. Principal funding is through the ACS Donald F. and Mildred Topp Othmer Olympiad Endowment, with additional support from The Chemours Company; the University of Maryland at College Park, department of chemistry and biochemistry; Carolina Biological Supply Company; Macmillan Learning; Texas Instruments; Pearson; and Fisher Science Education.

The International Chemistry Olympiad originated with Czechoslovakia, Poland and Hungary in 1968. Soon, other Eastern European countries joined the event; Western Europe began participating in 1974. The first U.S. team competed in 1984, winning one silver and two bronze medals.

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2019 Educational Awards Banquet at Mount Saint Mary’s University
May 17, 2019

Justin Dong, 1st Place Student and Michael Morgan, Education Chair

The 2019 Southern California Section National Team

Cherryl Mynster of Arcadia High School and Michael Morgan. Arcadia High School won the award for 1st Place Overall School.

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2018 Educational Awards Banquet at Mount Saint Mary’s University
May 18, 2018

Education Chair Michael Morgan and MC Alexander Alschuler

Albert Liu, First Place (tie) Highest Scoring Student with Dr. Gerald Delker, Olympiad Chair (left) and Michael Morgan (right)

Michael Xiong, First Place (tie) Highest Scoring Student

Award plaques for Arcadia High School and North Hollywood High School

Dr. Gerald Delker (Olympiad Chair), Cherryl Mynster (Arcadia High School), and Michael Morgan (Education Chair)

Gerald Delker, Michael Morgan and Altair Maine (North Hollywood High School)

Nancy Paradiso, Altair Maine and Michael Morgan

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2017 Educational Awards Banquet at Mount Saint Mary’s University
May 19, 2017

The 2017 Southern California Section National Team


Michael Morgan, Education Chair; Caroline Morgan, the 2017 Paul Shin Memorial High School Teacher of the Year; and Peter Shin, Paul’s brother, who presented the award.

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The two finalists for the 2014 U. S. National Chemistry Olympiad Exam are Rueih-Sheng Fu of Arcadia High School and Richard Wang of North Hollywood High School.

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Meet the four high school students who represented the US at the International Chemistry Olympiad, July 21-30, 2012, in this short, engaging video.

The top 20 national winners in the nation were invited to attend an all expenses paid two-week study camp, May 29th to June 13th, at the U. S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. At this camp, four finalists were selected from the U. S. Team to represent the United States in the 44th International Chemistry Olympiad (ICHO) in Washington, D.C. The Southern California Section is proud to announce that Timothy Man Hay Lee from Arcadia High School attended this camp and was selected as an alternate.

Let’s cheer as loudly for this Olympiad team as we do for those at the “other” Olympics in London!

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Whitney High School Student Wins Gold in 2011
International Chemistry Olympiad

Joe Tung (pictured third from left in photo above) of Whitney High School in Cerritos and three US teammates all came home with medals from the International Chemistry Olympiad (IChO) in Ankara, Turkey in July, 2011.

A total of 273 students representing national teams from 70 countries gathered for the competition. Testing consisted of one day of laboratory work and a second day of written exams. Once judging was complete, gold medals were awarded to contestants who had the top 33 scores. Placing 24th in the overall ranking, Mr. Tung was also one of three students selected to give welcome addresses at the IChO opening ceremonies.

Joe Tung tied for first place in the 2011 local competition, in which 1346 students representing 32 high schools in Los Angeles County took the local exam.  The National Olympiad Exam was given to the 17 top Los Angeles students in April.   From the approximately 940 students that competed in the National Exam, 20 won places at the US team training camp in Colorado Springs. Four finalists and two alternates were selected from that group.

This was Mr. Tung’s second trip to the international event – in 2010, he was one of two alternates at the IChO competition in Tokyo and 2011 marked his third time attending the US finalists’ training camp in Colorado Springs. Timothy Lee of Arcadia High School was also a US competition finalist and attended the training camp in Colorado in 2011.

There is a $9 per student participation fee to enter the contest or $11 for single students. We offer an “Early Bird Special” of $7 per student for 10 or more students if you register online or return the participation form and fee before February 4, 2019. After March 4th, the fee increases from $9 to $11 (late registration). Download the letter with all the pertinent details as well as the participation form here. 19ContestLtr NOW AVAILABLE: Sign up on-line and pay registration fees with a credit card. Available to school groups, but not individuals. Individual students need to have the participation form signed by their teachers and mail in the payment.