British Chemistry Olympiad Round 2

It’s been a pretty epic weekend. Keeping it brief:

Friday: Journey to Cambridge

I actually went up with a friend who was going to the Informatics Olympiad (BIO2) to which I had been invited but clashed (to the hour) with the chemistry one – I chose chemistry as I did BIO2 last year and sought variety. After my customary meal at Wagamama I dropped my stuff at St Cats (where BChO2 was to be held) and started wandering round Cambridge. When I got back I met up with some of the people from last Summer’s training week who had made it to round 2 this year. We were all standing around in a circle when the inevitable titration jokes started <- actually true ;)

All 20 of us were taken out to dinner at Pizza Express by the olympiad committee (which itself consisted of over 10 members), an event which lasted about four hours due to slowness of cooking / service (…) but was great fun. We planned the pub trip for the next day and went to bed with the knowledge that we would wake up to six hours of chemistry.

A curious tradition of the olympiad, enforced to prevent bias, is for each person to be randomly assigned an element as a pseudonym and for us to use those throughout the competition for written work. I was Phosphorus, which I think I might have spelt wrong…

Saturday: The hardest exam I have done / will ever do

There was a practical exam in the morning which I had been dreading slightly owing to my invariably highly chaotic past lab experiences. As it turns out there was nothing impossibly demanding that we had to do and I managed not to emerge awash with pyridine / phenol / some other nasty reagent, and we all did a TLC, learning on the job, which was completely new to me and cool to do; they seemed to like my TLC plate (woo!). I was really impressed with the facilities (in comparison to St Paul’s anyways – to me having a fume hood each is a luxury) though it was impossible to tap whiz the burettes (an invention of NAL: turning the burette tap 180° letting through about 0.5 cm3)! I even managed to get excited about the pipette fillers (get me…) – squeezy rubber things that suck automatically with virtually no effort on the experimentalist’s part, rather than the really annoying cylindrical plastic ones we get at school that you have to crank with your thumb and never work / fit. It was also the first time I’d ever worn a lab coat.

We had been promised that we would sit a particularly difficult theoretical paper, and it was revealed just before we started that it was in fact the hardest paper they had ever set. Being the worst organic chemist you’ll ever meet, I think I just about managed to get through the ones that would have looked plausible in a physics paper and drew some structures for the organic questions that would certainly have made my teachers cry from despair (if not laughter)…

Walking dazedly through the streets of Cambridge and making conscious and desperate attempts not to talk about anything related to electron movement, we filed into a pub. At some point there was a formal dinner where we each got a glass of each of three different wines, including a rather exquisite dessert wine which was discussed in great detail in terms of aldehydes, esters and hexane (…)

The rest of the evening can probably be found on Facebook.

Chemists are good fun

Sunday: The aftermath

We basically got sat in a room after breakfast, got given goodie bags (including RSC Sigg bottles, a book of Chemistry cryptic crosswords, scientist-shaped memory sticks, safety specs, and a T-shirt) and certificates, and the team was announced. Congrats to those who got in, especially to David Edey for having got through while still in the year below!

It goes without saying that I didn’t get through, but it was an enjoyable weekend and I met some awesome people (who I will be seeing next year)!



One Response to British Chemistry Olympiad Round 2

  1. […] subject – especially the organic side – but by some freak accident managed to get into the second round of the chemistry olympiad. So apart from one success, it’s not been a great […]

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