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Driven by Passion

Every year, a group of talented and passionate NUS High students would be selected to represent Singapore in the International Math and Science Olympiads. They spend months of hard work pouring over problems, fine tuning their analytical and practical skills. What motivates them to go the distance? We took time to talk to three students who were in the national Olympiad teams for this year. 

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Determined to go the distance  
Front Row (from left):  Teo Por Loong, Jacob (Silver, International Olympiad for Informatics); Kee Jing Yee (Silver, International Chemistry Olympiad); Theophila Toh Ying Lin (Silver, International Biology Olympiad);  Howe Choong Yin (Bronze, International Olympiad for Informatics) Back Row (from left):  Dylan Toh Shan Hong (Silver, International Mathematical Olympiad) Koh Jin Ming (Gold, International Young Physicists’ Tournament);  Garrett Tok Ern Liang (Silver, International Physics Olympiad;  Joel Tan Shi Quan (Silver, International Physics Olympiad);  Joshua Lim Yong Kiat (Silver, International Physics Olympiad) 

Click on the links below to read their interesting takes on the Olympiad experience and their passions. 

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Koh Jin Ming, Captain of the Singapore Tea at the 28th International Young Physicists' Tournament (IYPT). One wonders – what mysterious inner force can drive a young mind to such peaks of excellence?


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Teo Por Loong, Jacob is the youngest member of this year’s Singapore Team at the 27th International Olympiad for Informatics. In his free time, he indulges himself in the joys of baking.

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Kee Jing Yee, Member of Singapore Team at the 47th International Chemistry Olympiad, Silver Medalist Can a discipline of study be that fascinating that a person would spend an entire schooling life and career looking into it? Apparently so with chemistry, says Jing Yee.

 
Koh Jin Ming, Captain of the Singapore Team at the 28 th International Young Physicist’s Tournament (IYPT)

Jin Ming, 17, lives on an unthinkably tight schedule almost everyday throughout the year. Most of his time is spent in intense Physics training sessions. This year, he was selected to represent Singapore at the IYPT, shouldering the responsibilty of Team Captain. One wonders – what mysterious inner force can drive a young mind to such peaks of excellence?

It must have been quite a long road to being selected to represent Singapore in International Young Physicist’s Tournament (IYPT). Looking back, what were some of the contributing factors that have inspired and sustained your passion for physics?

I’ve always had a natural affinity towards physics. Some might find this odd – but physics is really beautiful, and its elegance becomes apparent the more you immerse yourself into it. After my stint in the physics Olympiad, I came to understand that physics exposes us to the world and explains the various phenomena in simple elegant equations. This is what has sustained my passion. And of course, my parents have also been very encouraging and fully supported my endeavour in IYPT. Additionally, NUS High allows us the space to explore the domain beyond the boundaries of examinations. Since Year 1, my physics teachers have been very engaging and the staff at NUS High have been supportive; it's always a pleasure to work with them. 

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This is the third consecutive year whereby the Singapore Team has clinched the 1 st position in the IYPT competition – an incredible feat. In your opinion, what were the factors that have contributed to the success of the Singapore team?

Hard work. Singapore takes IYPT very seriously and from the beginning, the selection process itself was demanding in its standards, so as to identify the best students. The preparation and training thereafter was intense as well. The May-June physics camp at RI allowed us more time to work and learn; sacrificing sleep was not uncommon. It’s all a matter of how much you want to commit, and I feel that we all worked very hard. 

You were selected as the Team Captain for this year s national team. What were some of the challenges that you faced? 

Even though I'm assigned the role of captain, I wouldn't say I know more about physics than any of my team members. My role was to mainly to serve as the bridge between the team and NUS High such that we are able to combine resources from both schools and as a result have access to better equipment and facilities.

The hardest part of IYPT was the fact that we had to juggle schoolwork and the needs of the competition, so this took some time for us to adapt to in terms of straddling between various expectations.

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What were some of the most enjoyable moments in the process leading up to the competition/during the competition?

After going through the entire process, I realise that things that were painful often strangely ended up being enjoyable; which is why they probably say hindsight is 20/20. The intensity of the training bonded the team and there were some really fun moments such as fooling around with nerf guns in the lab to relieve stress! 

What were the most significant takeaways from your experience leading the team? 

The most significant takeaway is not the mere knowledge of physics itself, but life lessons in general. When I first began my journey in this competition, the standards that my seniors had set seemed too high to scale. But we tend to underestimate what we can do. When you dive into something, and dedicate yourself to it, I think you’d be surprised at how much you can accomplish. It takes a lot of courage, but the degree of personal development that came along in the aftermath made it worthwhile.

Looking back, I realise that the struggles made me stronger and only served to reinforce my sense of accomplishment after the entire challenge ended. Personally, I wasn’t aiming to win. I just wanted to finish what I started. To present my work at such a prestigious platform was an opportunity and a privilege.

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Teo Por Loong, Jacob is the youngest member of this year’s Singapore Team at the 27 th International Olympiad for Informatics. He clinched a silver medal in the competition, attaining the highest score among his team mates. In his free time, he indulges himself in the joys of baking.

The International Olympiad in Informatics (IOI) is the most prestigious competition for Informatics. Held annually, Singapore has been fielding teams since 1992 and has sent over 50 participants over its 24 years of participation. This year, the IOI was held in Kazakhstan, and one of our students, Jacob Teo (Year 3), was chosen to represent Singapore as part of the Singapore team. He and a fellow NUS High Student, Howe Choong Yin, did the school and country proud by clinching a silver and bronze medal respectively.

Jacob’s interest in programming was first piqued when his math teacher in primary school used programming in his lessons. His teacher had given the students his self-programmed math games for them to play with to enhance their learning. Jacob then went on to explore programming outside of school curriculum, finding out about the many different aspects and languages of computer programming. “I found it exceedingly fun and interesting so when I entered NUS High (NUSH), I was pleasantly surprised when I was allowed to take Computing Studies (CS) modules and was introduced to Informatics Olympiad in Year 1,” he says during the interview. This opportunity developed his interest and Jacob is grateful for the exposure to CS modules in NUSH. The school also provided training for smaller informatics-based competitions that helped prepare him for IOI.

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Although Jacob’s achievement at IOI was commendable, he feels that he could have done better, commenting that the difficulty of the questions were on both sides of the spectrum; “Easy questions were really easy but the rest of the questions were impossibly hard.” Outside of the official training, he also did a lot of preparatory work at home, but was quite disappointed that he did not manage to obtain a gold medal.

Looking forward, he aspires to go for the IOI again and endeavor to attain a gold medal in his next attempt. When asked about his passions and future aspirations, he feels that it will inevitably be related to informatics and programming, saying that he cannot see himself changing paths. Believing that CS and math are complimentary domains, he says that math was the basis for CS and the problem-solving skills developed from CS competitions have been useful in his math modules.

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Despite being busy with many commitments and special programs held in school, Jacob still has many other hobbies that keep him busy in his free time. He participates in online programming competitions outside of his Computer Studies (CS) classes and finds them fun, adding that the competitions were “quite similar in style to IOI.”  Another unexpected passion is baking – Jacob finds this another nourishing activity to feed his soul, beyond his usual diet of informatics, programming and mathematics .



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Kee Jing Yee, Member of Singapore Team at the 47th International Chemistry Olympiad, Silver Medalist .

Can a discipline of study be that fascinating that a person would spend an entire schooling life and career looking into it? Apparently so with chemistry, says Jing Yee.

You are seen to be deeply passionate about chemistry. Can you share with us what shaped this passion?

There wasn’t really a single experience but rather a cumulation of many examples and concepts over the years, which got me hooked onto chemistry. School experiences, Chemistry Olympiad lessons, reading up on interesting topics, and my Advanced Research Project all played a part in cultivating my interest in chemistry. What I really love about chemistry is its novelty; I’m constantly learning new things and there’s always so much more to be discovered. The significant real life applications also keep me interested in chemistry. My chemistry teachers are another source of inspiration for me! Their passion and knowledge, and finding innovative ways to inspire us and share concepts with us are difficult to resist. It was only natural for me to love Chemistry as much as they do!

IMG_0588.jpg What are your future aspirations? Do you plan to pursue a career in the area of chemistry?

My immediate plans are to get a scholarship and study pure chemistry in the UK. I like the UK curriculum because it offers more depth and structure; you get to devote all your attention to chemistry, which is what I really want.

In the long term though,  I’m not really sure what career to take up. I may choose to go into research but I feel that I’ll be better equipped to make such a decision after a few more years of learning.

How does taking part in the International Chemistry Olympiad  (IChO) complement your pursuit in Chemistry?
I was very lucky to be given the sufficient time needed to concentrate entirely on honing my chemistry concepts. I’m glad I didn’t have to juggle schoolwork and was instead able to focus on doing well for IChO. It was really tiring to train for but on hindsight it was also deeply rewarding. I had a lot of fun during IChO though—everyone was so passionate and we were continually challenging ourselves. The IChO team consisted of four of us, so I was blessed to find likeminded people to interact with. This sparked stimulating discussions and mutual teaching and learning.

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The scope for this competition is beyond the usual high school curriculum. What were some of the challenges that you faced in preparing for the competition? How did you overcome these challenges?

A key part of IChO training is doing problems and finding ways to solve them more efficiently. While this aspect of the training is not about learning new concepts but rather fine tuning existing knowledge and its application, I realized it was a necessary drill to be able to excel in the competition.

Another challenge was the fact that there were many expectations from my peers, my family, and myself so it was stressful at times. However, the school was very supportive and the teachers were encouraging and kind—never once forcing their expectations upon me or pushing me too hard. I knew that even if I didn’t do well they wouldn’t have blamed me. Their encouragement made a world of difference to me in handling my own stress!

[On NUS High]

I like the fact that our school curriculum is not centred around the O or A level curriculum, which gives us freedom to introduce more depth and content. For example, we’re introduced to Kinetics concepts in Year 1 and Organic Chemistry in Year 3. This flexibility allows students to delve deeper and build up a strong foundation.

Even right now, I’m taking chemistry honours and learning about analytical chemistry, a subject that isn’t even touched in 'A' level curriculum. I find all areas of chemistry fascinating and it’s great how our school really exposes us to wider perspectives.  

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