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Students find formula for chemistry success

Two New Richmond High School seniors are a dynamic duo in chemistry.

Betty Groboski and Peter Nelson were two of 14 area high school students to earn a spot on the regional Chemistry Olympiad team. The region spans across a huge area of Minnesota and western Wisconsin (37 counties in Minnesota and five counties in Wisconsin).

New Richmond has had just two members on the regional team before, Bill Groboski (Betty's brother) and Jake Dalton.

"This is the first year we've ever had two go," said proud teacher Neal Ziller. "It's quite a prestigious thing."

Groboski and Nelson shrug off any suggestion that they are exceptional chemistry students.

Nelson admitted the pair didn't even cram to prepare for the big exam.

"We're not studiers," Groboski added.

Groboski notes that sibling rivalry probably motivated her to do so well.

"My brother did it, so if I hadn't done it he would have been a little disappointed in me," she said.

Despite the humility, Ziller said the students worked hard to earn a spot on the regional team.

"They are some of the top of the class," he said. "They can take a chemistry concept and synthesize it. And they both have a mind like a steel trap ... they remember everything."

Ziller said he nominates eight New Richmond students every year, but more often than not no one is chosen.

In recent years, New Richmond's success rate has improved.

"We've got some pretty good chemistry students here," he said. "We've done pretty decent in the competition."

Nelson and Groboski were selected for the regional team based on their scores on a preliminary screening exam taken last month.

Groboski and Nelson then advanced to the U.S. Chemistry Olympiad competition, conducted at the University of St. Thomas last week. They completed a three-part test, including a chemistry lab portion, over six hours.

Both students are now waiting to hear if their score qualifies them to represent the nation at the International Chemistry Olympiad in Korea in July.

Just 20 students from across the United States will be chosen for the international contest. No New Richmond students have advanced past the U.S. contest.

The Chemistry Olympiad is sponsored by the American Chemical Society, a nonprofit scientific and educational organization dedicated to the advancement of chemistry in the public interest. The Minnesota section is one of 189 across the nation serving the society's 159,000 members.

Despite Nelson's and Groboski's chemistry success, neither said they are likely to follow that path of study after graduation.

Nelson expects to attend the University of Chicago, studying physics and math.

Groboski will attend the University of Wisconsin, although she hasn't decided on a major yet.