Student Leo Reddy reveals how he took on the UK Chemistry Olympiad challenge with amazing support from his chemistry teacher

Leo Reddy

Source: © Arun Reddy

Leo Reddy was one of four students selected to represent the UK at the 2022 International Olympiad, winning a silver medal. He did maths, further maths, economics and chemistry A-levels, and is now studying maths at the University of Cambridge.

How did it feel to be selected to participate in the International Chemistry Olympiad?

Surreal. The first thing I did was tell my dad, a professor of chemistry, who was very proud.

What happened next?

Intense training camps – a weekend and then, later, five days. It’s more like a first-year degree course, where you’re introduced to new concepts to see how quickly you get to grips with them. The excellent UK mentors took a pedagogical approach – looking for understanding rather than the ability to answer questions.

How did you prepare?

Susan [Hammond] is an amazing teacher, taking us beyond A-level. She loaned me a degree-level textbook to study if a topic was one I’d already covered, and she encouraged everyone to do Round one. She explained all the additional material we might need, and set and went through past papers. She also made all chemistry A-level students enter the Cambridge Chemistry Challenge at the end of year 12, which was great Olympiad preparation.

Susan [Hammond] is an amazing teacher, taking us beyond A-level. She loaned me a degree-level textbook to study if a topic was one I’d already coveredand she encouraged everyone to do Round one. She explained all the additional material we might need, and set and went through past papers. She also made all chemistry A-level students enter the Cambridge Chemistry Challenge (bit.ly/3UI20OQ) at the end of year 12, which was great Olympiad preparation.

Describe some of the highs and lows

No lows in Round one of the UK competition, although the preparation isn’t easy. I saw that I was in the top three on the RSC website! Round two was the opposite. I thought, ‘I haven’t got a clue what I’m doing’ but got lucky. One question was about testing salt solutions for colour to work out which salts they were. At some point, I had memorised them all! The International level is much harder – you’re competing with the best from around the world.

Any advice for other chemistry students?

It’s a really enjoyable experience, and good preparation for A-level and beyond.

Wondering about the teacher’s experience? Read this interview with Susan Hammond, Leo’s teacher.