Archive for September, 2012

This blog post was written by Martha Molnar, Senior Communications Specialist at the American Technion Society.

Olympic medals come in many varieties, and all demand extensive training, hard work and talent. So while Israel’s team won no medals at the London Olympics, four Israeli high-school students won a silver and three bronze medals at the 44thannual Chemistry Olympiad in Washington, D.C. last month.

The Israeli delegation celebrates their victories. From left to right: Nadav Orion, Tzuf Shay Peled, Ori Teichman, and Michael Leitzin.

“All four came home smiling because it was the first time our entire delegation won medals,” said Technion Professor Zeev Gross of the Chemistry Faculty, who coordinated the coaching by Technion staff and faculty members.

“We never could have competed without the intense coaching,” said Michael Leitzin, a bronze medal winner, about the Technion coaches.

The two-day competition against 26 teams from around the world includes practical lab work and theoretical tests. The successful teams have usually come from the Far East, where winning a medal is an entry card to the best universities in the world – sometimes automatically, without an entrance exam. The Technion offers the Israeli winners the same, explained Professor Gross. His group chooses and prepares the participants at theoretical and practical studies in Technion labs and at training camps.

The international chemistry competition has been held annually for 44 years, but it was only the seventh time in succession that Israel has participated.

The achievement is sparking interest in science throughout the country, Professor Gross said, but his mission is twofold.

“Some countries focus on returning with medals, and early on they indentify the few students who’re likely to get the medals, then pour all the energy into coaching these likely winners,” he explained.

The Israeli and Pakistani delegations show off their medals.

“But I believe that the competition has to do more than that. It must also be a vehicle for inspiring students and parents, and the population at large. People must understand the importance of science to our future,” Professor Gross said. “I cannot compromise either one of these goals. What it means is that everyone gets a chance, but the downside is that the likely winners are not identified until much later.”

He added that in some ways this kind of publicity is more effective in grabbing attention than important patents and scientific publications. And given the passion he embodies for this aspect of his work, which he noted is on a voluntary basis without pay, it’s easy to see how it might well be contagious.

In fact, according to Professor Gross, the number of high-school students taking the science achievement exam has been growing steadily.  This year up to 6,000 students will be taking the exam, up from 3,000 last year.

There are also paybacks for the Technion, because greater interest in science will in time produce better students. That, Professor Gross says, is where he personally gets to enjoy the fruits of his work.

For Michael Leitzin, who just graduated from the Leo Baeck High School in Haifa, it was a visit to his sixth-grade class by Technion students that sparked his passion for science.

“They did a very interesting experiment, and then, again about two years ago, one of my science teachers showed me a collection of metals from his lab,” he explained. “I remembered that visit by the Technion students and became very interested all over again.”

He took the science achievement exam and scored high enough to be invited into the Technion coaching program. Michael is considering whether he wants to major in chemistry or physics at the Technion. Whatever he chooses, his future seems bright.

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