Washington University students launch a new type of chemistry tournament

Katheryne Lamkin (left) and Annie Zheng, students at Ladue Horton Watkins High School, participated in the inaugural tournament in April 2016. (Photo: Sid Hastings/Washington University)

High school science competitions are like oxygen and nitrogen — they’re everywhere. But the university students behind the Washington University Chemistry Tournament (WUCT) say there’s room to improve. Their event, now in its second year, focuses on collaboration, real-world applications and complex problem-solving — just like college chemistry.

“There are many great science tournaments out there, and our members competed in many of them as high school students,” said junior Harshi Gupta, who co-founded the tournament with junior Abhishek Sethi. “But we wanted to create something that integrates all of the skills you need to succeed in a STEM career.”

Some 250 high school students from across the country will compete in the second annual tournament at locations across campus on Saturday, April 8. About 100 Washington University students will be on hand to help.

“The atmosphere is another thing that sets us apart,” said Sethi, who, like Gupta, is majoring in chemistry in Arts & Sciences. “It is so exciting for these students to be surrounded by people from across the nation who are as excited about science as they are. They also have a chance to explore this campus and meet amazing faculty members and college students.”

Participants will face challenges of varying difficulty. An“easier” problem may be as basic as balancing a redox reaction. A more challenging question may combine redox reactions with thermodynamics.

“In high school, there is a lot of memorization and chapter tests, but in college, you have to take those concepts and apply them to new situations,” Gupta said. “That’s the gap we are trying to bridge. And the students love it. The teams tell us it is refreshing to see chemistry outside the context of the textbook.”

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