The International Chemistry Olympiad (IChO) is an annual academic competition for high school students from around the globe. This year the 47th IChO will take place in Baku, Azerbaijan. Each participating country runs several competitions to form its national team of four students who represent their country.
Meggie Schneider is a 17-year-old student from Lemgo, Germany, and a participant in the International Chemistry Olympiad. Here she shares her positive experiences and enthusiasm with ChemistryViews.org and the reasons why she encourages others to participate.
Why did you decide to participate in the International Chemistry Olympiad?
It was by coincidence that I came to participate. I had an accident with my racing bike in May 2014 and broke my foot, so I wasn’t able to train for my triathlon for the next twelve weeks. I spent a lot of time at home and was searching for something to occupy my time while I was healing as well as continue my education. I am really interested in the natural sciences, especially chemistry. In addition, I wanted to take the advanced chemistry course (Leistungskurs) in school after the summer holidays. It was then that my former math teacher, who is now my advanced chemistry teacher, asked me if I would like to take part in the Chemistry Olympiad. It sounded really interesting and exactly like what I had been searching for. With his help I went to the official website of the International Chemistry Olympiad, got informed about the competition, and downloaded the first round of exercises.
Tell us something about how the competition is organized.
With regard to the organization, I can only tell you what is important for the participants in Germany. I guess the selection process is different in every country. The aim is to find the best four chemistry students who are allowed to represent the country at the 2015 International Olympiad in Azerbaijan. The selection process consists of four different rounds. The first two only include theoretical exercises.
First of all, I have to say that it is helpful and ultimately necessary that you have someone who is willing to help you throughout the process. However, anyone who is interested in chemistry and has basic knowledge can take part in the first round. You must simply download the exercises and start working on them. Several hundred students, all under the age of 20, take part each year. In addition, you have to register using the online portal and declare your participation.
Then, from May to September, you have time to work on the first exercises. You are allowed to use the Internet and books for help. If you have finished most of them, your teacher corrects them and reports your result to the organizer who is responsible for the federal state. You need to have at least 50 % correct. Some weeks later, you get a participant certificate and, if you have qualified, the exercises of the second round by post.
A few hundred students take part in the second round. You have until the end of December, and after that you have to send your answers to the organizer. The exercises of the second round are the most difficult exercises; but, as in the first round, you can reference books for help. Some weeks later you get an e-mail about whether or not you are among the 60 best who reach the third round. If you have made it that far, you take part in a seminar and have to do two theoretical exams. The best 15 take part in a further seminar and have to do a theoretical and a practical exam. After this long selection process the four best are chosen.
What were your experiences like?
I only had good experiences. The exercises of the first round were not impossible; but nevertheless, you need a lot of time to work on them because there are exercises in multiple areas of chemistry: inorganic, organic, physical, analytical, and biological. And I hadn’t heard of most of them before. Most exercises include topics not taught in school. So I had to familiarize myself with these new topics, which turned out to be quite interesting. The exercises of the second round were the most difficult of the whole competition, and after reading them I didn’t understand everything. The topics — for example, the Hückel theory — were really complex. My teacher let me borrow many books that were incredibly helpful and resourceful. Even so, it was a bit disappointing because even after quite a lot of reading and so forth, I was still not able to answer the questions. But after some further reading and researching, I was able to answer the questions one by one, although not every single one. I sent my answers to the organizer, not expecting much.
Although I did not earn enough points to advance to the third round, everyone who participated in the second round in my federal state was invited to take part in different workshops hosted by some chemistry companies. In my federal state there are some famous companies, such as Bayer and BASF. The workshops will take place in the coming months, and I am really looking forward to them.
What conclusions have you drawn from your participation?
All in all, my participation in the Chemistry Olympiad was a great experience, and I am proud to have been a part of it. And, of course, I learned a lot of new things in chemistry and taught myself new topics. I guess that is great practice for my studies in the future. Having had the experience, I am also sure to take part and try again next year.
What advice would you give to other students who are interested in partaking in the Olympiad?
If you are interested you shouldn’t be shy. Speak to your teacher and inform yourself about how the process works in your country by looking online. In the first round it does not matter whether you know a lot about chemistry or not. The most important thing is that you are interested in chemistry and have fun while learning new things. You have to invest a lot of time in working on the exercises, but in my opinion, it is definitely worth it!
Thank you for these insights and all the best for your further studies.
Also of interest
- Everybody – Many – 60 – 15 – 4;
ChemistryViews.org 02 August 2011.
German selection process for the International Chemistry Olympiad (IChO) from the North Rhine-Westphalian point of view and its success