Students from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor (UM) and the University of Sheffield, UK (USUK) recently participated in China’s National Undergradu- ate Chemistry Laboratory Tournament (NUCLT). Held July 6–10, 2016, at Nanjing University, Xianlin, the
tournament celebrated its 10th anniversary by hosting two
teams of foreign student participants for the first time.
The event drew three-student teams — all rising seniors —
from 43 campuses all over China. More than 200 faculty members attended a concurrent conference to share ideas about
laboratory teaching. The students from the University of Michigan and the University of Sheffield participated fully as honorary guests.
“The design of this tournament sends a powerful message
about fairness, the true spirit of competition, and getting at
the underlying question of how Chinese universities are doing
in the laboratory education of their students,” says Professor
Chengjian Zhu of Nanjing University, one of the chief organizers
of the competition. “Another intent we have for this tourna-
ment is to continue to encourage our best students to pursue
To participate, each
school sends the organizing
committee a list of at least
30 potential team mem-
bers, out of which three
are chosen at random and
notified of their selection
about two weeks prior to
the tournament. Students are anonymously assigned to one of
three groups. On the night before the competition, each faculty
representative draws three identifier letter-number combina-
tions at random. During the competition, the participants are
only known to the judges as Competitor A24, B06, and so forth.
On the first day, all of the students take a 2-hour written
examination comprising 77 open-ended questions on labora-
tory procedures and experimental methods. On the morning of
the second day, 30 minutes before the start of the 7-hour prac-
tical, a blind drawing is used to assign each group (A, B, C) to
a set of organic, physical, or inorganic/analytical experiments.
The students spend the day carrying out these procedures
under the watchful eyes of the judges.
The UM and USUK students had an appropriately eye-
opening experience. As Mike Payne and Qiuhan Li from the UM
10th Biennial National
BY BRIAN P. COPPOLA
Student participants Amy Smith (l) and Mike Payne (c) work on the inor-
ganic chemistry challenge under the watchful gaze of an evaluator.
Student participants Jack Watson (l) and Maddie Herman (r) work on
the physical chemistry experiments.