UAE-based students enter French chemistry contest

Only two of 120 worldwide will make it to finals in Paris.

Chloe Muller, 17, a student at Lycee Louis Massignon, works on an experiment during the qualifying examination yesterday for a worldwide chemistry competition for French-language schools.
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ABU DHABI // Seven high school students from Abu Dhabi are hoping for a good reaction after taking part in a worldwide chemistry competition held by French schools yesterday.

The qualifying examination for the 2012 Chemistry Olympiad was taken by four Grade 12 students from the French school Lycée Louis Massignon (LLM) and three Grade 12 Emirati students from the Al Ittihad Model School, which follows a French curriculum.

It was the first time that students from the emirate have participated in the annual exam, which involves 120 competitors drawn from French-language schools outside of France.

The top two students will win a spot at the finals in Paris next month to compete against 38 students from schools in France.

The three-hour exam, held at the new science laboratories at LLM, involved a series of practical experiments and a quiz.

Abdulla Al Braik, a 16-year-old Emirati student, said things were going well.

"I like chemistry because it's practical, and it's something you can touch. It's tangible," he said.

Stephan Lampert, a professor of chemistry and physics who was assessing the students and has helped to prepare them for the exam, said Emirati students faced an additional hurdle.

"It's more difficult for them because the question sheet is in English, which is not their native language; for the other students, their sheets are in French," he said.

However, the French student Chloe Muller, 17, said competing in her mother tongue was not proving much of an advantage.

"I'm doing so badly right now, because I accidentally poured the liquid into the wrong place," she said.

The students were given five two-hour practical training sessions, from October to the end of January, which included correction classes, three conferences and a quiz.

This year's exam focuses on "chemistry and water", so the training sessions covered subjects such as the desalination of seawater, ions, the hydrolysis of esters, the extraction of smelling molecules and water electrolysis.

Even so, Ms Muller said she wished there had been more training as she "didn't really have time to learn everything".

According to Jean-Christophe Leard, a professor of chemistry and physics who also helped to train the students, water was a surprisingly difficult topic to study.

"Water seems easy, but in fact it's a very large subject matter. You have to know everything about what water can do and what we can produce with it, such as hydrogen," he said. "For this test, you have to be the best of the best."