Education International, Vol. 1, No. 1, 19-20, Published in August
International Chemistry Olympiad
1, 1162 Saint-Prex , Switzerland
The International Chemistry Olympiad is a yearly competition for
high school students coming from more than 50 countries. Each country
can send 4 candidates who must be younger than 20 years old and
not registered yet in a university. All International Chemistry
Olympiad happen in July. Problems to be solved are both theoretical
and practical. After grading and comparing exams the best students
get gold, silver and bronze medals, somewhat like in the "true"
This competition was created in the former Eastern block for their
proper use. It was strategically conceived as a good way for improving
the sense of unity of its nations. It should be mentionned that
riots had often broken up in the Eastern block: Budapest 1956, Praha
1968, not to speak of Berlin and Warsaw. Such a common competition
for all Communist regimes should contribute to stabilize their youth.
So different scientific olympiads were created for the nations of
the Eastern block: mathematics in 1956, physics in 1960, always
with a tremendous success.
The first Chemistry Olympiad was created in Prague 1968, then repeated
the following years in Poland, Hungary, etc. In 1974 it was Romanians
turn to host an Olympiad. It should be remembered that former Romania's
leader Ceaucescu tried to dispute Soviet leadership over the Eastern
block. For example he refused to take part to the common military
manoeuvers. So he decided to innovate in the field of the Olympiads
: he invited delegates from neutral countries. Sweden and Yugoslavia
came to Bucharest, and did not get any medals. It was taken as a
tremendous success for the socialist countries. The following Olympiad
was in Hungary 1975 with new countries: Austria, Belgium, West Germany.
And they all failed to get medals.
The reason of this failure was not political : it was the poor training
of the Western students before the competition. The level of this
competition is so high that only well trained students have a chance
of getting a medal. So from then on all competitors managed to train
their students and get better results. After 1977 medals were given
to both Western and Eastern students.
The number of participating countries kept increasing every year.
The rest of the world managed to gradually join the olympic adventure.
The first Western Olympiad was in Austria 1980 with 13 countries.
In 1999 51 countries were competing for gold, silver and bronze
medals in Bangkok, Thailand.
The competition lasts two days: one day (5 hours) for practical
work, and another day (5 hours) for solving theoretical problems.
After correction and arbitration, the best 10% got gold medals,
20% got silver, and 30% bronze. The level of difficulty is every
year higher. In 1999 it was about corresponding to a second year
The best 1999 results were obtained by Timothy Jones from USA before
Mario Tagfiazucchi from Argentina. The best nations were Korea,
Iran and USA, with three gold medals each, before China, Chinese
Taipei, Hungary and Romania, with two gold medals each. On the other
end of the list, seven countries did not get any medals : Brazil,
Czechia, Indonesia, Kuwait, Norway, Spain and Uruguay.
Thailand has made a special effort to host this Olympiad. The laboratories
and grassware (burettes, pipettes, beakers) were brand-new. Each
student had a special microscale kit for organic operations with
22 items more than $100 worth (Figure).
Hosting an Olympiad is extremely expensive for the organizing country
which has to pay for all expenses of all participants. The cost
of last Olympiads has been steadily increasing. See following data.
2 350 000
434 000 000
2 190 000
order to help the organizing country a participation fee has been
decided in 1998, which is calculated by multiplying * 100 tunes
the number of years elapsed since lasting hosting an Olympiad. So
if a given country has taken part to the Olympiads for 13 years
without having hosted any, it must pay US$1300. This tax will provide
about US$ 50 000 - 89 000 to any hosting country in the future.
present Olympiad is in Copenhagen in July 2000. The next will be
in Prague 2001, then Netherland 2002 Greece 2003, 2004 void : Turkey
and Switzerland are both candidates, Taiwan 2005, and Korea in 2006.
closing this report it may be worth mentioning a side result of
the Olympiads, namely the contact Of students from distant countries
for a week or so. Friendship among students gives them an opportunity
to get friends from all over the world. Ibis has produced some results.
One of my students, for example, has created a travel agency with
a Russian student he met during the Olympiad 5 years ago. This travel
agency is still working today organizing language courses in Moscow
and St-Petersburg and study travels through Russia and Siberia with
great success. Long live the International Chemistry Olympiad !