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Chemistry and Beyond: MCKL Alumnus Joyton Fu Hung Li’s Inspirational Journey Towards Greatness

Group photo of Joyton (second from left) and his team before flying off.

Joyton Fu Hung Li’s recent accomplishment at the 2023 International Chemistry Olympiad (IChO) shines a light on both his individual prowess and the commitment of Methodist College Kuala Lumpur (MCKL) to foster excellence. 

Hailing from Kuala Lumpur, this 19-year-old Cambridge A Level graduate of MCKL has been granted the prestigious ASEAN Scholarship to pursue Chemistry studies at the National University of Singapore. Before embarking on this new chapter, he participated in the IChO 2023 held in Zurich, Switzerland, where he proudly secured a Silver medal. 

The IChO is an annual event gathering the world’s brightest chemistry students, providing a rigorous platform for them to showcase their knowledge and skills. Competing in teams of up to four students, the participants face an arduous five-hour laboratory practical, and an equally challenging five-hour written theoretical examination. Eligibility requires participants to be under 20 years old as of July 1 of the competition year. 

Joyton bagged a silver.

Representing Malaysia, Joyton earned a Silver medal (ranking 99th out of the Top 100), emerging as the sole Malaysian within the Top 100 at this year’s IChO. Having previously participated and secured a Bronze medal last year (ranking 160th), Joyton is settling into his next phase of life in Singapore.  

Amidst this transition, he graciously imparts his insights and reflections on his journey through the IChO with us. 

Congratulations, Joyton! How does it feel to have won Silver at IChO 2023? Can you describe your emotions and thoughts when you learned about your ranking? 

I am incredibly proud to have the opportunity to represent Malaysia and achieve this victory! I am also thankful for the consistent support from MCKL and the invaluable guidance provided by my lecturers, specifically Dr. Yau Ching Koon and Dr. Teh Swe Jyan. 

Despite the tinge of disappointment from not securing a gold medal, my Olympiad journey has humbly motivated me to support and mentor aspiring chemistry Olympiad students, in the hopeful anticipation that they might achieve that distinction. 

What motivated you to participate in the Chemistry Olympiad, and how did you first become interested in chemistry? 

It all began when I was in Form 5 during the COVID-19 Movement Control Order (MCO). My chemistry teacher rushed through the entire organic chemistry chapter in just a two-hour lesson, and I was having a hard time grasping the concepts. So, I decided to teach myself by watching related videos on Khan Academy. 

One day, it struck me that chemistry is literally everywhere in our daily lives and is essential to human existence. That is when I realised my genuine interest in the subject. However, it was not until a few months later, after being encouraged by one of my close friends, that I started preparing to take part in IChO. 

Could you share some insights into the challenges you faced during the competition? How did you approach difficult problems and maintain your composure under pressure? 

The most significant challenge during the competition revolves around effective time management. Even though we had five hours each for the lab practical and the written exam, it might seem like a lot, but it is not. It is crucial to remain composed, stay collected, and begin by tackling the simpler questions. Equally important is avoiding undue pressure, as excess stress can trigger panic and hamper clear decision-making. 

Did you have a favourite moment or experience during the Olympiad that stood out to you? 

This year’s Olympiad took place at ETH Zürich, and I had the privilege of touring their state-of-the-art laboratories. I was genuinely amazed by the impressive level of equipment their university possesses. With highly talented researchers coming from various parts of the world and collaborations with international chemical manufacturing companies, ETH, in my opinion, stands as one of the truly remarkable science and technology universities globally. 

How has your participation and this Silver win in the Chemistry Olympiad impacted your passion for chemistry and your future academic or career goals? 

The journey thus far has been profoundly fulfilling and incredibly inspiring. It has reaffirmed my determination to build a career in chemistry. Also, to mentor and guide more students into becoming integral members of the Chemistry Olympiad community. 

The team representing Malaysia at IChO 2023.

Did you collaborate with other participants or work independently during the competition? How did teamwork or individual effort play a role in your success? 

There were four of us in the Malaysian team and each of us worked autonomously. Nevertheless, we regularly exchanged perspectives on different concepts and challenges, which enhanced and enriched our aptitude for critical thinking. 

Were there any specific topics or areas in chemistry that you found particularly fascinating or challenging during the Olympiad? 

This might sound technical, yet there exists a challenge related to synthesising radicals through electrolytic cells. Despite its apparent complexity, the underlying concepts involved are not overly intricate, showcasing the fundamental principle of Olympiads – the utilisation of straightforward ideas to address complex issues. 

Group photo of Joyton with his lecturers and family members.

How did your mentors, lecturers, and peers support and guide you throughout your preparation and participation in the Olympiad? 

My lecturers, Dr. Yau Ching Koon and Dr. Teh Swe Jyan, have been extremely generous with their wealth of guidance, particularly concerning the practical paper. Moreover, my practical trainings at MCKL has equipped me with the skills to devise and refine my own experiments, a capability that significantly aligns with my career aspirations. 

Winning Silver and ranking 99 out of 339 globally is an outstanding accomplishment. What advice would you give students aspiring to compete in similar international academic competitions? 

Join the competition only if you hold a genuine interest in the specific subject. Avoid studying solely for the purpose of entering an Olympiad. Instead, nurture your curiosity and follow the path that your passion illuminates. 

Besides the Chemistry Olympiad, have you been involved in any other scientific or academic pursuits that you would like to share? 

I previously participated in the Malaysia Astronomy Olympiad, securing a Gold ranking in the initial selection round. Although I did not advance in the subsequent round, the setback did not weaken my determination, instead, it fuelled my resolve to surpass my previous performance. 

How has your overall experience in the Chemistry Olympiad impacted your personal growth and development as a student and individual? 

I have learnt to be resilient and independent through my experiences. Participating and engaging in an international Olympiad demands formidable dedication, with most participants investing two to three years to secure their place. 

More often than not, we are compelled to navigate intricate concepts independently, due to the limited educational resources within the Olympiad framework. This invariably hones our capacity for critical thinking, empowering us to be adept problem solvers. 

Have you had a chance to reflect on your performance and identify areas for improvement in your chemistry knowledge and skills? 

There was a time when I struggled with certain physical chemistry concepts like thermodynamics and kinetics. I managed to overcome this by doing extensive practice and ensuring a solid grasp of the fundamental principles behind each problem. 

As an MCKL alumni and successful participant in the Chemistry Olympiad, do you have any plans to mentor or inspire younger students interested in chemistry? 

Yes, I do! The best advice that I can offer is to maintain a sense of passion and curiosity. When you are learning something, do not merely accept it at face value. Instead, strive to connect it with real-life phenomena or even question the validity of the concepts. 

We understand that you will be based in Singapore for a while to further your studies, what are your plans and aspirations? How do you see your achievement in the Chemistry Olympiad shaping your professional path ahead? 

I am dedicated to enhancing my knowledge and research skills across diverse areas of chemistry. I strongly believe that chemistry can play a powerful role in addressing challenges like climate issues, famines, diseases, and resource depletion. It is my aspiration to make a meaningful contribution in these areas. Through my participation in IChO and being active in the Chemistry Olympiad community, I have gained insights into multitude of global research opportunities and simultaneously bolstered my theoretical concepts, which I can effectively apply in future research endeavours. 

Joyton’s remarkable journey in the 2023 International Chemistry Olympiad reminds us of the strength of commitment and the influence of true talent. Amidst his successes, the unwavering support from MCKL shines brightly. The Silver medal and Top 100 ranking he earned on the global stage not only celebrates his personal victory, but also highlights the transformative opportunities nurtured MCKL. 

As Joyton embarks on his next chapter at the National University of Singapore, his story resonates as an empowering beacon for aspiring students. It shows that remarkable achievements are within reach through persistent passion, resilience, and an insatiable thirst for knowledge. 

Congratulations once again, Joyton. MCKL sends you our best wishes! 

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