Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
It was only a few years ago when chemistry began to take hold of Derek Wang’s thoughts and imagination. In that short amount of time, Wang has packed a lifetime of understanding and achievement.
The 2014 North Allegheny Senior High School graduate earned a silver medal this summer at the 46th annual International Chemistry Olympiad, held in Hanoi, Vietnam, from July 20 to 29.
“I have been working towards this for several years,” said Wang, 18, of Franklin Park. “It was good to see the fruits of my labor and I’m proud of representing the U.S. team.”
Teams representing 74 countries took part, and competitors were judged individually. Those in the top 10 percentile were awarded gold medals, while individuals who placed in the 70th to 90th percentile received silver. The four-person U.S. team brought home a gold and three silvers.
The olympiad included five hours each of written theoretical problems and laboratory practical problems. After a 40-hour trip to get to Vietnam, it wasn’t all work for Wang and the other competitors, who soaked up the culture and enjoyed the local foods.
The most invigorating part of the trip for Wang was meeting new people. Even if they did not share a language, they all were there because of the same passion.
“The fact that we all liked chemistry gave us something to build a friendship around,” he said. “I’m happiest about meeting the people and really getting that chemistry is not just in America, it’s everywhere.”
In order to make the team, Wang had to get through the National Chemistry Olympiad competition, a three-part exam administered to 1,000 students. The top 20 moved on to a two-week study camp. Finally, four students were selected based on their performance at the study camp to represent the United States at the international competition.
“Very few people have what it takes to do this,” said Matthew Davis, a North Allegheny chemistry teacher who taught Wang.
“Derek made it happen.”
Both Wang’s father, Chuan-Bao Wang, and mother, Xiaojing Zhang, are chemists. The subject didn’t interest Derek much until he took an Advanced Placement class taught by Davis, an Upper St. Clair resident who prepped Derek before the school day started and during study halls for the olympiad.
“At first, I really didn’t like (chemistry),” Wang said. “After I took sophomore chemistry, I realized it explained a lot of the questions I had. By reading more about it, I found I had more questions. It was a means for me to explain my curiosity.”
That yearning for knowledge is part of the reason Wang, who graduated with a 4.69 grade-point average, is attending Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., where he is majoring in material engineering. He also is an avid runner who competed on the school cross country and track teams, as well an accomplished violinist.
“He is going to do some great things,” Davis said. “I will be hearing about Derek Wang in the future.”Ed Phillipps is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.