The International Chemistry Olympiad (IChO) is an annual competition for the world’s most talented chemistry students at the secondary school level. Nations around the world send a team of four students who are tested on their chemistry knowledge and skills in a five-hour laboratory practical and five-hour written theoretical examination that are held on separate days with the practical examination usually being before the theoretical examination.
Each delegation consists of up to four students and two mentors, one of whom is designated as the head of the delegation or “head mentor.” A delegation may also include a handful of guests and scientific observers.
The program is intended to stimulate student interest in chemistry through independent and creative solving of chemical problems. It also aims to promote international contacts in chemistry, friendships between young scientific workers of different nationalities, cooperation among pupils, and exchange of pedagogical and scientific experience in chemistry.
The idea of the International Chemistry Olympiad was developed in the former Czechoslovakia in 1968 and the first International Chemistry Olympiad took place in Prague between 18th and 21st June 1968. The event has been held every year since then, with the exception of 1971. The delegations that attended the first events were mostly countries of the former Eastern bloc and it was not until 1980, the 12th annual International Chemistry Olympiad, that the event was held outside of the bloc, in Austria.
Countries who wish to participate in the IChO must send observers to two consecutive Olympiads before their students can participate in the event. Presently, around 80 countries participate in the International Chemistry Olympiad.
All participants are ranked based on their individual scores and no official team scores are given. Gold medals are awarded to the top 12% of students, silver medals are awarded to the next 22% of students, and bronze medals are awarded to the next 32% of students. Honorable mentions are awarded to participants that do not win a medal but get a perfect score for a problem in either the theoretical or the practical examination. One special award is given to the student who achieves the highest score overall. Two separate special awards are given to the students who get the best score in the theoretical and practical examinations.
Preparation for the International Chemistry Olympiad demands a high level of understanding and interest in chemistry and an outstanding ability to relate chemical subjects with one another as well as with the practical world.