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Nguyen Le Thao Anh - The only female student to win a gold medal at the International Chemistry Olympiad

Post by: trangtrang | 16/02/2022 | 940 reads

Once thinking that the Chemistry Olympiad was too out of reach, Thao Anh couldn't believe it when she received the announcement that three Vietnamese students had won gold medals, including her.

In a small room full of medals and certificates, 18-year-old Nguyen Le Thao Anh, a student at Hanoi - Amsterdam High School for the Gifted, attentively read documents on biochemistry research. After completing the International Chemistry Olympiad at the end of July, she has plenty of free time to delve deeper into her fields of interest.

Thao Anh was born in Nghe An. When she was 3 years old, she moved to Hanoi. Having a father who is a doctorate of Mathematics - IT, she has been inspired to pursue Math. During her elementary years, she was passionate about this subject, participating in a number of city-scale competitions. However, when she became a secondary school student at the Hanoi - Amsterdam High School for the Gifted, having access to more specialized types of lessons, Thuy Anh gradually felt that Math was too much for her.

In grade 8, when she studied Chemistry, Thuy Anh found the subject interesting. She could spend a few hours doing homework without getting bored. Inspired by her chemistry teacher and encouraged by her family, she decided to challenge herself in this subject, making her first mark with the first prize in the City competition for excellent students in 9th grade.

This achievement helped her to be directly recruited into the Chemistry class of Hanoi National High School of Education. However, she continued to try her hands at other schools and subjects, and was accepted into a series of specialized classes in Mathematics, Chemistry, and Literature from Hanoi - Amsterdam High Schools for the Gifted and High School for the Gifted in Natural Sciences (University of Natural Sciences - Vietnam National University, Hanoi). "Because I'm used to Ams' environment, I want to continue studying here," she explained the reason for choosing Chemistry 1, Hanoi - Amsterdam High School for the Gifted.

In the early days of high school, when she was exposed to specialized chemistry, Thao Anh was shocked. Chemistry in the secondary school program leans towards calculus, which is her strength, and was mainly about inorganic chemistry, so it is easy to absorb. The content of learning in high school is complicated because of the many fields related to experiment and applicability. It took a few months for her to catch up with the intensity of her studies.

In the 11th grade, participating in the national excellent student contest, Thao Anh won the second prize and was among the top 32 students in the country with the highest results. She went through another round of competition to be selected for the International Chemistry Olympiad team. Thao Anh said that with such a huge amount of knowledge to acquire, she has not studied many parts deeply enough, especially organic chemistry, so her score during the round of forming the team was not good. "Actually, that result didn't surprise me because I knew I was lacking. I consider myself lucky to have had the opportunity to take the second round right from 11th grade," Thao Anh said.

For the 17-year-old girl at that time, the International Chemistry Olympiad team was her top goal, but too out of reach. She studied for IELTS, SAT I and SAT II, and after 10 months, she had completed the standard exams with IELTS 8.0, 1570/1600 SAT I, SAT II Math and Chemistry scores of 800/800 each. During this time, Thao Anh also "returned back on track", and for the second time, she participated in the national competition for excellent students in Chemistry.

Thảo Anh cùng gia đình và thầy chủ nhiệm Nguyễn Hồng Hải. Ảnh: Nhân vật cung cấp

Thao Anh with her family and homeroom teacher Nguyen Hong Hai. Photo: Character provided

As a result, Thao Anh won the national first prize and continued to participate in the team selection exam. Chemistry 1 also has Nguyen Duy Anh who is in the top 32 nationwide. Thao Anh thought that her classmate was slightly better in organic chemistry than her, and it was very difficult for two classmates to be selected for the Chemistry Olympiad team, so she thought "it has been good for me to get to this round, and I will be happy with whatever results."

At the end of April, when she received the announcement that she was one of the four official members of this year's Chemistry Olympiad, Thao Anh could not believe it initially. "I was frozen for a while, I didn't think I was selected because there was a small problem in the practice test," she shared. The joy was doubled when Duy Anh was also selected to the team. The last time Hanoi - Amsterdam High School for the Gifted had two students in the same class on the International Chemistry Olympiad team was 7 years ago.

Thao Anh and the other three members have been practicing intensively since the beginning of June at the dormitory of Hanoi National University of Education. The female student compares that if studying for the national excellent student exam is broad and multi-faceted, the International Olympic Games need to study certain issues deeply. Claiming that she does not burn the midnight oil, Thao Anh studied for no more than 8 hours a day, always finishing before 22 pm. Many times, she was commented by her mother to be "not like a student studying for an international exam" because she often saw her playing on the phone or watching TV.

After two months of intensive practice, she had difficulties in the final mock exam. At that time, she felt that she did not write well and made small mistakes. Spending an entire evening in her dorm room thinking, Thao Anh realized that she had never thought of taking the Chemistry exam before, but was just solving problems, thereby finding joy in studying. Understanding this, she knows what to do to get herself back on track, relieving pressure in the face of the biggest exam approaching.

The official exam consists of 9 questions, lasting for 5 hours. Thao Anh allocated 30 minutes for each question, and even if she hadn’t finished a question in that time, she would move on to the next one and come back to solve it later. Because of the long exam questions and materials, she started working intensively as soon as she received the topic, right until the time was up, as she did not have time to take a break to fear or wonder".

In the end, she did most of it, with only one small idea left. "Because I was so focused and worked continuously for a long time, I really couldn't remember what I had done. I couldn't even look back at the questions. So, after the competition, I thought that the silver medal was good enough," Thao Anh said.

Thảo Anh trong bộ ảnh truyền thống của các học sinh trường THPT chuyên Hà Nội-Amsterdam. Ảnh: Nhân vật cung cấp

 Thao Anh in a set of photos of students from Hanoi-Amsterdam High School for the Gifted. Photo: Character provided

This year, the Organizing Committee of the International Chemistry Olympiad did not announce the results in advance, so Thao Anh and Vietnamese students nervously watched the livestream of the results. Because of anxiety, she turned off her phone in the afternoon, fearing that the result would not be as expected. When she saw the screen announcing three Vietnamese students won gold medals, including her, Thao Anh couldn't believe it. When she heard everyone's applause and cheers, she was pulled back to reality and burst with joy.

"I don't know how to describe the feeling of happiness at that time," said the 2003-born girl. With a gold medal at the Chemistry Olympiad, Thao Anh is the only girl among more than 20 students participating in this year's Olympics to achieve this achievement.

Mr. Nguyen Hong Hai, a Chemistry teacher and homeroom teacher of Thao Anh for three years in high school, said that his students had a good foundation and were good at all subjects. With any subject, she studied responsibly. From grade 11 to 12, she learned and accumulated a lot of new knowledge, so her confidence also increased a lot. "With those skills, I think Thao Anh is suitable for research work that requires persistence, progress and responsibility. Those are also qualities that she has. If she chooses another field, I will also completely believe that Thao Anh can also succeed if she is dedicated to pursuing it", Mr. Hai said.

In 5 years of studying Chemistry, Thao Anh realizes that the field of health science needs more attention, especially when Covid-19 broke out globally. This is also the field that she wants to work and study after graduation. Currently, Thao Anh is choosing between the Hanoi University of Pharmacy and the University of Natural Sciences, Hanoi National University. If there is a chance to study abroad in the future, she will also seize it. "I think it doesn't matter where I study, but the important thing is that I can promote my abilities and contribute to the community," she said.

In addition to the gold medal of the International Chemistry Olympiad 2021, Nguyen Le Thao Anh also won a series of other awards: individual and team gold medals in the 15th International Youth Science Olympiad (IJSO2018-Botswana), individual gold medal in the 5th International Olympiad for Big Cities (IOM) organized in Moscow, Russia, second prize in the city competition for excellent students in science in grade 9,  consolation prize in the city competition for excellent students in history in grade 9.

Author: Thanh Hang


Translator: Do Thuan An - English 2023