Eight students from Hillsdale College’s American Chemical Society chapter traveled to the University of Michigan-Flint to compete in the Battle of the Chemistry Clubs on Saturday. Though it was their first time at such a tournament, the club beat out 11 other schools, including Michigan State University and The University of Toledo.
UM-Flint hosted Battle of the Chemistry Clubs for the first time four years ago. Each year since, they have invited all Michigan college chemistry clubs, and drawn some from out of state.
Most of the schools that attended Saturday were much bigger than Hillsdale, but other small liberal arts colleges were represented, as well, such as Adrian, Aquinas, Kalamazoo, and Olivet colleges.
ACS faculty adviser Christopher Hamilton heard of the event last year, but ultimately, Hillsdale did not have time to put a team together.
“I knew we could do well if we sent a team, so once I heard about the competition for this year, I made sure the ACS officers knew about it and encouraged them to get a group together to attend.”
The competition’s events included all of the fields of chemistry covered in an undergraduate degree: organic chemistry, inorganic, analytical chemistry, biochemistry, and physical chemistry.
Four events took place before lunch. Two of them did not require much real chemistry — for example, in one challenge, two students had to find graduate students who were hosting the event and talk to them. The first team to fill up a bingo card with graduate students’ names won. Hillsdale juniors Brad Francis and John Flo took on that and came in second.
Another challenge was designing an experiment for spectroscopy — the practice of using light to discover the shape of and the bonds between molecules. Students “bombard molecules with a variety of wavelengths” to find out their nature, said senior Paul Schmitt, who competed in this event.
After lunch, the studetns heard they were in second place.
The grand finale was when they found out that to make it through the quarterfinals and semifinals, they would have to perform two titrations.
“What made it so great is that the semifinals turned out to be almost exactly a lab that we do in a class here,” Schmitt said. “We even figured it out before it started because we saw notes on the board and determined what it was. It was a really great experience in terms of, ‘Okay, our education is doing something.’”
“[Titration] is something that, in lab, takes about 3 1/2 to four hours, and we did it in under 15 [minutes],” said senior Dino Petrov, Hillsdale’s ACS president. “And we did it pretty accurately.”
Finals was a round of chemistry jeopardy, something the ACS on campus does at the end of every year. Hillsdale competed against Ferris State University and UM-Dearborn. The final score was Hillsdale, 2,300, and the other teams, zero.
“I think it makes a very serious statement [about Hillsdale] because we put the team together at the very last minute,” Petrov said. “It was completely on a whim, and we … destroyed the competition.”
Petrov and Schmitt spoke proudly of Hillsdale’s chemistry department and the education they have received here.
“All of the experiments we did we’ve done multiple times in lab in classes,” Petrov said.
“I don’t think we could ask for a better chemistry department,” Schmitt said, noting that both his and Petrov’s teachers provide their cell phone numbers so students can even text them with questions.
“We have a strong emphasis on not just memorizing material or using formulas to come up with an answer,” Hamilton said. “We want students to have a deeper understanding of the material. A big part of science is actually using what you have learned in the lab or in the field.”
Hillsdale students will be returning to the competition next year, trophy in tow.