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.
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
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.
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?
A Baker.... and a Programmer
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.
Finding Chemistry with Chemistry
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
International Young Physicist’s
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.
This is the third
consecutive year whereby the Singapore Team has clinched the 1
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.
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.
What were some of the
most enjoyable moments in the process leading up to the competition/during the
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.
Teo Por Loong, Jacob
is the youngest member of this year’s Singapore Team at the 27
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
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.
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
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!
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.
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
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
Chemistry in Year 3. This flexibility allows students to delve deeper and build up a strong foundation.
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