Four Stuyvesant students qualified for the eighth Annual United States of America Biology Olympiad (USABO) National Finals on Friday, April 16, via an afterschool exam administered by biology teacher Roz Bierig. The students, mentored by Bierig, will travel to George Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, to prepare for and take the national Bio-Olympiad exam from Sunday, June 6, to Friday, June 18.
The Bio-Olympiad exam covers a wide range of biology topics, at a highly advanced level. According to the USABO website, the Bio-Olympiad exam tests students on topics such as “cellular biology, microbiology, biotechnology, plant anatomy & physiology, animal anatomy & physiology, ethology, genetics & evolution, ecology and biosystematics.”
“This material is beyond the scope of graduate level biology,” Bierig said.
Students who participate in the Bio-Olympiad were taught after school by Bierig and received special, college level textbooks. During this mentoring time, students met together in groups to review, study and dissect specimens.
“Ms. Bierig is great,” senior and former USABO National Finalist David Huang said. “Whatever subjects I’m weak in, she provides me with materials to study.”
Juniors Brendan Huang, Joseph Park, and seniors Huang—qualifying for a second time—and Yang Li qualified for this year’s National Finals. Li, however, will be unable to compete due to personal reasons.
In total, only twenty students, from across the nation, qualified for the USABO National Finals out of the 11,000 who took the USABO Open Exam and Semifinal Exam.The Open Exam is an afterschool, 50 minute, teacher-administered multiple choice test, while the Semifinal exam is a three hour, after-school test consisting of both multiple choice and free response questions. This year, Stuyvesant had a record 19 students who qualified for the Semifinal Exam, after scoring highly on the Open Exam.
At Purdue, the 20 finalists will undergo a rigorous two week preparation program, consisting of biology tutorials and labs, which will be taught by top biologists from around the country. “We will be having lectures every day and doing practices with dissections,” Huang said. “A lot of time we learn stuff that’s not covered in [Advanced Placement Biology] textbooks.”
At the conclusion of the two weeks of training, the finalists will be administered the National Finals exam.“The exam is broken up into two parts,” Huang said. “There is a practical and a theoretical section. In the practical part there is a botany section, a molecular bio section and a miscellaneous section. In the theoretical part, they can ask us whatever they want.”
The four highest scoring students on the exam will go on to represent the United States of America in the International Bio-Olympiad. These students will remain at Purdue to undergo further preparation for the international competition.
The International Bio-Olympiad is a prestigious competition, drawing competitors from top secondary schools around the world. While students from Russia, The United States and China typically perform well, the winner of last year’s international competition—held in Japan—was Yangzi Dong of Singapore.
This year’s international Bio-Olympiad will be held in Changwon, Korea from Sunday, July 11, to Sunday, July 18. Stuyvesant has never had an international participant in the competition, but the finalists remain hopeful that this year will prove fruitful. “I’m hoping I can earn a place at Internationals,” Huang said.
“I would pay my way to Korea if a student qualified,” Bierig said.