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International Chemistry Olympiad Report
from Training Camp for the Japan Team
International Chemistry Olympiad Report from Training Camp for the Japan Team
TDK hosted a training camp for four high school students selected to represent Japan at the International Chemistry Olympiad (IChO), for the purpose of building their knowledge and honing their experimentation skills. It was held at TDK Technical Center, an R&D center located in Chiba, Japan, on March 25th and 26th, 2019. This was the first time that the Chemical Society of Japan and TDK had joined forces to run such a camp at an R&D facility.
With funnel and burettes in hand, the nervous students proceeded with their experiments. As that tense scene unfolded in one of the TDK Technical Centerʼs lab, the four students aiming for victory on the world stage took a big step towards the path to success.
Heading towards the Olympiad
The IChO is a chemistry fair that brings together high school students selected from 80 countries and regions around the world. In 2019, it will be held in Paris, France. Japan’s world-class track record in the event includes winning gold medals for five consecutive years. Following in the footsteps of earlier teams, the four students selected from around Japan hope to carry on this splendid record. Four training camps are scheduled in the run-up to the main midsummer event, and the first of these was held at the TDK Technical Center.
“I didn’t know anything about TDK,” says Takumi Nishino. Although the students seemed unfamiliar with the company, they would never normally have the chance to spend time in a corporate R&D center, so their visit was a completely fresh experience. “When I came here, I was surprised to see such a comprehensive lab,” remarked Ryoichi Hirashima.
Tackling Tough Problems Brings a Sense of Growth
The training camp took place over two days, with an overnight stay in a hotel. The four members of the team met for the first time and initially appeared uneasy, but all share the same goal of becoming scientists in the future. They soon got over their nerves and set to work. On the first day, the team conducted a chemical experiment involving organic analysis. This experiment entailed detecting the amount of acetylsalicylic acid (Aspirin®) compound present in an Aspirin tablet. On the second day, the team carried out an inorganic complex synthesis experiment. The experiments were difficult, and part of one of them is outlined below.
The Challenge: Inorganic Complex Synthesis Experiment
The inorganic complex synthesis experiment required participants to produce three types of complex and record the fluorescent color of each. Finally, an ultraviolet lamp was used to determine which complexes are used in the ink of a 50 euro note.
Place 0.70 g of pyridine-2,6-dicarboxylic acid and 20 ml of pure water in a conical flask, and add guanidine carbonate. Mix until both solids dissolve.
Insert magnetic rotor and stir on a magnetic stirrer. While stirring, add one type of lanthanoid salt equivalent to 1/3 the amount of pyridine-2,6-dicarboxylic acid and mix the solution for one hour at room temperature. Follow the same procedure for each of the three types of lanthanoid salt.
Before filtering, cool in iced water to maximize crystallization, and connect the filter to a suction flask using a Buchner funnel to collect the product.
Note: Take care to place the filter paper right side up. To prevent paper fibers from entering the product, ensure that the smooth side is on top.
Level out the crystals, rinse several times with small amounts of ice-cooled water and dry the crystals for five minutes in the Buchner funnel (use a pump to pass air through the funnel).
Transfer the dried crystals to a Petri dish, and dry further in an oven (heated-air dryer) set to 80°C.
Note: Weigh Petri dish before use for ease of yield calculation.
Use a UV lamp to observe color tendencies of the three types of complex. Even though the same wavelength of ultraviolet ray shines on each of the complexes, the three complexes differ in fluorescence (phosphorescence)—in other words, coloring—according to the type of metal and therefore exhibit separate colors. For example, the surfaces of red substances absorb green light, since green is the complementary color, yet in this case, the white complex absorbs the ultraviolet rays and emits red light.
When ultraviolet light is directed onto a 50 euro note, various colors including red and green are observed to shine from it. This shows that several complexes are used in the ink on the note.
“At the IChO, entrants have to successfully conduct three experiments in five hours,” explains Professor Akira Nagasawa, chair of the IChO Sub-committee. “The key point is to instantly grasp the essence of the experiment and quickly devise a course of action.” For this reason, one of the main goals of training is to hone skills in drawing up appropriate plans for experiments and efficiently implementing them.
Things didn’t go smoothly at first. “There was lots of equipment we had never seen before,” admits Masahiro Ofuchi, “and we were puzzled about which pieces to use and how to use them.” When some students’ hands shook as they performed intricate tasks, the instructors casually stepped in to provide guidance.
Watching the students silently intent on the tasks before them during the experiment, it was amusing to hear the comment of two past team members who had come to support this year’s entrants: “That takes us back!”
Mahiro Suematsu, who carries out experiments on a weekly basis in his school’s Chemistry Club, found the training highly stimulating. “Unlike Chemistry Club, at the IChO you have to quickly produce results on the spot,” he noted. “I managed to do it in that tense atmosphere.”
After the experiments were completed each day, the instructors gave lectures, pointers on experiments, and guidance on preparing answers. The four students focused on these long sessions with no break in concentration. They made an excellent start on their preparations for the main event, and all left with expressions of fulfillment on their faces.
Enjoying Study and Delighting in Challenge
Both of my parents are chemical researchers. Actually, I was once told that I wasn’t cut out for chemistry, and that motivated me to start studying it seriously. At the start of the training camp, I struggled to deal with the equipment, but gradually things got better, which taught me that practice is important in experimentation. It was also stimulating to carry out experiments while getting to know my team-mates, whom I was meeting for the first time. In the future, I would like to go down the medical path and become a world-leading authority on food allergy research. I hope to use my chemistry knowledge for that purpose.
Todaiji Gakuen Senior High School
I became interested in chemistry around my fourth year in elementary school. Since then, I have liked problem-solving and haven’t done many experiments. So this training camp was full of firsts for me, and I was really thrown into the deep end. At school, we just follow the guidance of the teachers, but here we had to think of a course of action ourselves and work things out independently, which was especially difficult. I was also grateful for the advice that in the actual IChO it is important to prepare readable answers that are easy to understand.
Yokohama Municipal Minami High School
I didn’t start studying chemistry in earnest until I was in my second year at junior high. What got me started was a basic chemistry problem set by an older student. Solving that problem was really interesting, and I got serious about it. In high school, I joined the Chemistry Club and studied reference books and workbooks in the aim of getting a place on the IChO team. I love experiments and do them practically every week, but the big difference between Chemistry Club and this training is that here we had to produce results on the spot, and it was important to work with precision. My mother is a pharmacist, so in the future, I would like to do pharmaceutical research.
Eiko Gakuen Senior High School
On the first day of the training camp, everything seemed hard, but by the second day, I felt like I was getting used to experiments. Rather than just memorizing, the experiments required us to think for ourselves, so we could savor the fascination of finding our own solutions to things we didn’t understand. To be honest, when I heard the training camp was being held at TDK I wondered why, but when we came to the Technical Center I was surprised to find that the experimental equipment and other facilities were more comprehensive than I had imagined. My image of TDK changed and I realized that it is an R&D-oriented company. I want to study a wide range of fields not restricted to chemistry, and explore various possibilities.
Nada Senior High School
Lectures, Facility Tours, etc.
TDK Techno Studio Tour
TDK MAKER DOJO Tour
I understand that TDK is the first company to provide support for a training camp to prepare students for entering the IChO. Some people may wonder why a manufacturer of electronic components would do this, but TDK has a close relationship with chemistry. We develop our own materials to create better products, and knowledge of chemistry is essential to improving the attributes of materials. There are many chemistry majors among the employees who work in our R&D center, which provided the venue for this training camp. Hosting the four high school students selected to represent Japan at the IChO was very stimulating for TDK. As a company that supports scientific personnel, we are delighted to do whatever we can to help. All of us at TDK back the students hoping that they will work actively as those who drive future progress in science and technology.
TDK Corporate Communications Group
About the IChO
This international chemistry competition for high school students began in 1968. Held annually, it now attracts 300 students from 80 countries and regions. The event lasts 10 days, and for five hours each day participants are presented with experiment challenges and written questions. Gold, silver, and bronze medals are awarded to those who produce outstanding results. This year, the 51st IChO will take place in Paris, France. In 2021, the event will take place in Osaka, Japan.
How to take part
Japan first entered a team in the IChO in 2003. Since then, four student representatives have taken part in the event each year, achieving good results. Candidates for the team are chosen by participating in Japan’s Chemistry Grand Prix and achieving top results, or by being recommended. Candidates undertake a written exam and attend a selection camp before the final members are decided. They are truly elite who have passed tough challenges.