International Chemistry Olympiad and its start

The system of subject Olympiads was as a part of a general-educational system introduced in the former Soviet Union still before the Second-World-War. This model was after the war applied also to educational system in Czechoslovakia. However, the project of subject Olympiads was pushed forward relatively slowly because it was accompanying with the engagement of the teachers who had no experience in this field. There were not so many problems with Mathematics Olympiad and therefore, it found quickly its way to schools. On the other hand, the Chemistry Olympiad (ChO) caused a problem and it was introduce into secondary schools in sixties years of the last century. It was caused before all by the fact, that Chemistry Olympiad consisted of theoretical and experimental parts. It required, however, chemical laboratories at schools and teachers who were acquainted with the work in the chemical laboratories. Besides the schools it was necessary to build up the organizational structure of ChO in districts, regions, and finally on the all state level.   This was not an easy task.   

           It was characteristic for the sixties years of the last century that the problems heaped after the Second World War,  started to be solved also in the field of security and international cooperation. This trend did not avoid the culture and education. The international Olympiads were the excellent example for the support of the development of friendship and cooperation among the young people. It was no wonder that Poland organized in 1967 the first International Physics Olympiad and it was a good inspiration for a team of Czechoslovak organizers who started to organize the International Chemistry Olympiad as a new international competition for young people. It was in first half o the year 1968 and the relation between Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union were a little bit cold at that time. But in spite of many problems the first IChO was organized and today it is not interesting that only three countries (Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland) took part in it. By the way, 76 countries participated already in the IChO fifty years later. 

            The idea to organize the International Chemistry Olympiad (IChO) was born in the former Czechoslovakia. The political situation in Czechoslovakia in the spring of 1968 was very tumultuous. Under new leaders the country was in an economic reform. Groups of intellectuals strove after a “socialism with a human face”. There was a smell of independence in the air. The people were full of activities, they wanted more contacts with other countries. One of the new ideas was to organize an International Chemical Olympiad (this was the first name for this competition).

            In 1968 the Chemistry Olympiad (ChO) was a part of a secondary school system already in all countries of the Soviet block. The ChO in the Soviet Union was a model for all other countries. The teachers in the countries were already acquainted with the competition and its firm system (from the school round to the national round) was worked out. The Ministry of Education of the particular country was guarantor of the competition. Moreover, National Committees for Chemical Olympiads (ChOs) were established in the particular countries. This was a basis on which the idea of IChO was developed. The first steps could be done rather smoothly because the first participating countries were all members of the same political block. No long explanations were necessary. But the same structure prevented any invitation to a west country.

            The Czechoslovak National Committee for ChO supported by the Ministry of Education, sent letters of invitation to all “socialist” countries, except Romania, which country was not welcome by the Soviet Union at that time. At the beginning of May 1968 the relations between Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union started to be “nervous”. Therefore, it is not astonishing that the invitation was accepted by Poland and Hungary only. The other three countries (Soviet Union, Bulgaria and German Democratic Republic) gave no response.

            On May 15th, 1968 a meeting was organized in Ostrava (Czechoslovakia) with the aim to create some basic rules for the international competition, called later as International Chemical Olympiad. Three countries took part, with representatives of the National committees of the countries. The report contained seven points as a proposal for the preliminary regulations.

  1. The aim of the competition: Competitions of this kind should promote friendship and co-operation among the pupils, closer contacts among the young scientific workers, exchange of pedagogical and scientific experience.
  2. Who is the organizer: Ministry of Education of the organizing country.
  3. When the competition should be organized: At the end of the school year
  4. Who can participate: Pupils of the secondary school without a special chemical orientation.
  5. National team consists of pupils and accompanying persons (teachers).
  6. The IChO will consist of two parts: theoretical and experimental.
  7. The IChO is a competition of individual pupils, not a competition of teams.

These first regulations were approved on June 21, 1968 during the 1st IChO.

Contact us

Dr. Anton Sirota|Director of the IChO IIC
IUVENTA – Slovak Youth Institute
Karloveská 64, 811 04 Bratislava, Slovakia
E-mail: anton.sirota@stuba.sk|Phone: +421 907 473 367

Dr. Martin Putala|Department of Organic Chemistry
Faculty of Natural Sciences
Comenius University, Bratislava, Ilkovičova 6, Slovakia
E-mail: putala@fns.uniba.sk|Phone: +421 918 669 092