Idaho Falls student participates in U.S. National Chemistry Olympiad

May 14, 2019

A son of two Idaho National Laboratory scientists, Idaho Falls High School junior Cameron Young says he wants to follow in his parents’ footsteps one day.

His first step toward reaching that goal was taking the national qualifying exam for the U.S. National Chemistry Olympiad — a three-part, four-hour-and-45-minute-long test that about 1,000 of the nation’s top high school students take each year.

The exam covers a broad range of chemistry topics, chemical theories and puts students through two rigorous, laboratory practical exercises. He took the exam over three days in Barbara Nelson’s classroom while still attending the rest of his classes.

After receiving one of the highest scores in eastern Idaho (75 out of 100), Young was the only Idaho Falls High School student invited to take the national exam.

“I didn’t feel super confident about the test. It was a very rigorous test,” Young said. “Not easy at all, but I feel like I did OK. I thought it would be a good experience since I’m thinking about taking (AP chemistry) next year.”

Young was not named one of the 20 finalists who will attend the Chemistry Olympiad Study Camp this June at the University of Maryland at College Park, but he said the experience was invaluable to his future in chemistry and engineering.

Nelson said Young enjoys problem-solving and handling questions “where he has to think beyond exactly what he has been told.”

“He is a bright kid. He enjoys work that really makes him think,” Nelson said in an email. “He has a talent for what I think of as, ‘flying by the seat of his pants.’ Just an ability to think about a question and come up with what should be correct and it usually is.”

Young said he is considering studying chemical or electrical engineering at the University of Idaho with the ultimate goal of one day working at INL.

He said he may take the Chemistry Olympiad exam again next year due to his interest in understanding topics including classical mechanics and fluid dynamics.

“I like understanding why things are the way they are,” Young said. “It’s good to learn how, and why, things are here.”