International Chemistry Olympiad

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The International Chemistry Olympiad (IChO) is an annual academic competition for high school students. It is one of the International Science Olympiads.

The first IChO was held in Prague, Czechoslovakia, in 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.

Structure and rules[edit]

An International Chemistry Olympiad medal for 29th IChO, held at Montreal, Canada.

Each delegation consists of up to four students and two mentors (one of them is designated as the head of the delegation or "head mentor"). A delegation may also include a handful of guests and scientific observers. Students must be under the age of 20 and must not be enrolled as regular students in any post-secondary education institution. The International Information Center of the International Chemistry Olympiad is based in Bratislava, Slovakia.

Countries who wish to participate in the IChO must send observers to two consecutive olympiads before their students can participate in the event. A total of 68 countries took part in the 38th IChO in 2006: 67 as participants and 1 as an observer. In 2017 more than 80 countries are expected to send students.

The competition consists of two examinations, a theoretical examination and a practical examination. Both have durations of up to 5 hours, and are held on separate days with the practical examination usually being before the theoretical examination. The theoretical examination has a value of 60 points and the practical examination has a value of 40 points. Each examination is evaluated independently from the other and the sum of the results of the examinations determines a participant's overall result. A scientific jury, which is installed by the host country, suggests the tasks. The international jury, which consists of the 2 mentors from each of the participating countries, discusses the competition tasks and translates them into the language of their students' preference.

Students receive the examinations translated into their languages of preference. It is the duty of the mentors to translate the examinations from English before they are given to the participants. After the examinations are held and evaluated by a committee appointed by the host country and before awards are presented, mentors discuss the evaluation of the exams with judges of the committee to assure fairness in their evaluation. Because the mentors review the examinations before they are given to participants, any communication between the mentors and the students is strictly forbidden prior to the completion of both exams, and the students are required to surrender any mobile phones and laptop computers to the organizer.

The syllabus of the competition contains subjects from several areas of chemistry, including organic chemistry, inorganic chemistry, physical chemistry, analytical chemistry, biochemistry, and spectroscopy. Though some of these subjects are included in most secondary school chemistry programs, for the most part, they are evaluated at a much deeper level and many may require a level of knowledge and understanding comparable to that of post-secondary education. In addition, the host country of each IChO issues a set of preparatory problems well in advance of the competition every year. These preparatory problems cover specific topics in considerable more depth than typical post-secondary education. 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.

A gold medal from the 40th IChO

All participants are ranked based on their individual scores and no official team scores are given. Gold medals are awarded to approximately the top 10% of students, silver medals are awarded to approximately the next 20% of students, and bronze medals are awarded approximately to the next 30% of students. The exact number of medals is decided on the blind review of the results. Honorable mentions are awarded to the next top 10% of the participants that do not win a medal. One special award is given to the student that 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.

These events are also outstanding opportunities for the students to meet people from all around the world who share similar interests, to visit different places, and to get in touch with different cultures. As the aims of the competition establish, the IChO competitions help to enhance friendly relations among young people from different countries; they encourage cooperation and international understanding.


While each country is free to choose its team by whatever means it seems appropriate, the selection process usually involves holding regional and national olympiad competitions. Many countries hold "training camps" for its top students, where mentors from the country give the students accelerated college-level courses in chemistry with an emphasis on the topics covered in that year's preparatory problems as well as practical training. It is agreed that such training programs must not exceed a total duration of two weeks but there are allegations every year that some countries exceed this limit by months or even years. Another concern is that some countries tend to bring the same students to the competition year after year, which helps them win better medals. Although some believe that this is against the spirit of the olympiad, many nations find it hard to justify leaving their best students at home.


The idea of the International Chemistry Olympiad was developed in the former Czechoslovakia in 1968. It was designed with the aim to increase the number of international contacts and the exchange of information between nations. Invitations were sent by the Czechoslovak national committee to all socialist countries, except Romania. However, in May 1968, relations between Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union became so delicate that only Poland and Hungary participated in the first international competition.

The first International Chemistry Olympiad took place in Prague between 18 and 21 June 1968. Each of the three participating countries sent a team of six pupils, and four theoretical tasks were to be solved. Guidelines for the next competitions were already suggested. The second chemistry Olympiad took place in 1969 in Poland, and Bulgaria also participated. Each team consisted of five pupils, and an experimental competition was added. The decision was made to invite more socialist countries to future competitions and to limit the number of pupils to four. The third Olympiad in 1970 was organized in Hungary with the GDR, Romania and the Soviet Union as new countries. In this competition, more than three prizes were distributed to the pupils.

There was no Olympiad held in 1971, as at the end of the competition in 1970, an organizer and host for the next event could not be agreed on. This was solved for the next three years by diplomatically agreeing on the Soviet Union to host 1972, Bulgaria in 1973, and Romania in 1974. 1972 was the first time where preparation tasks for the International Chemistry Olympiad were created. Also, at a jury session, it was suggested that invitations should be sent to Vietnam, Mongolia, and Cuba. Unfortunately though, these invitations were not sent, leaving seven to compete in 1973.

In 1974, Romania invited Sweden and Yugoslavia to the Olympiad in Bucharest and Germany and Austria sent observers. The Federal Republic of Germany was the first NATO-country with an observer present and this was only able to occur because the Brandt government had contracts in the East. Thus, in 1975, West Germany, Austria, and Belgium also participated in the International Chemistry Olympiad.

The first Olympiad in a non-socialist country took place 1980 in Linz in Austria, although the Soviet Union did not participate. Since then the number of the participating countries has increased steadily. In 1980, only 13 nations took part but this number increased to 21 by the 1984 Olympiad in Frankfurt/Main. With the fall of the Iron Curtain and the break-up of the Soviet Union into independent states in the early 1990s, the number of participants increased again. In addition, the increasing interest of Asian and Latin American countries became apparent with the numbers of participants. Altogether 47 delegations participated in 1998. Presently, 75 countries participate in the International Chemistry Olympiad.

List of past and future Editions[edit]

1st Prague  Czechoslovakia June 18–21, 1968
2nd Katowice  Poland June 16–20, 1969
3rd Budapest  Hungary July 1–5, 1970
not held in 1971
4th Moscow  Soviet Union July 1–10, 1972
5th Sofia  Bulgaria July 1–10, 1973
6th Bucharest  Romania July 1–10, 1974
7th Veszprém  Hungary July 1–10, 1975
8th Halle  East Germany July 10–19, 1976
9th Bratislava  Czechoslovakia July 4–14, 1977
10th Toruń  Poland July 3–13, 1978
11th Leningrad  Soviet Union July 2–11, 1979
12th Linz  Austria July 13–23, 1980
13th Burgas  Bulgaria July 13–23, 1981
14th Stockholm  Sweden July 3–12, 1982
15th Timişoara  Romania July 2–11, 1983
16th Frankfurt  West Germany July 1–10, 1984
17th Bratislava  Czechoslovakia July 1–8, 1985
18th Leiden  Netherlands July 6–15, 1986
19th Veszprém  Hungary July 6–15, 1987
20th Espoo  Finland July 2–9, 1988
21st Halle  East Germany July 2–10, 1989
22nd Paris  France July 8–17, 1990
23rd Łódź  Poland July 7–15, 1991
24th Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C.  United States July 11–22, 1992
25th Perugia  Italy July 11–22, 1993
26th Oslo  Norway July 3–11, 1994 [1]
27th Beijing  China July 13–20, 1995
28th Moscow  Russia July 14–23, 1996
29th Montreal  Canada July 13–22, 1997
30th Melbourne  Australia July 5–14, 1998
31st Bangkok  Thailand July 4–11, 1999
32nd Copenhagen  Denmark July 2–11, 2000
33rd Mumbai  India July 6–15, 2001 [2]
34th Groningen  Netherlands July 5–14, 2002
35th Athens  Greece July 5–14, 2003 [3]
36th Kiel  Germany July 18–27, 2004 [4]
37th Taipei  Taiwan July 16–25, 2005 [5]
38th Gyeongsan  South Korea July 1–11, 2006 [6]
39th Moscow  Russia July 15–24, 2007 [7]
40th Budapest  Hungary July 12–21, 2008 [8]
41st Cambridge  United Kingdom July 18–27, 2009 [9]
42nd Tokyo  Japan July 19–28, 2010 [10]
43rd Ankara  Turkey July 9–18, 2011 [11]
44th Washington, D.C.  United States July 21–30, 2012 [12]
45th Moscow  Russia July 15–24, 2013 [13]
46th Hanoi  Vietnam July 20–29, 2014 [14]
47th Baku  Azerbaijan July 20–29, 2015 [15]
48th Tbilisi  Georgia 23 July - 1 August, 2016 [16]
49th Nakhon Pathom  Thailand 6-15 July, 2017 [17]
50th Prague and Bratislava  Czech Republic,  Slovakia 19-29 July, 2018 [18]
51st Paris  France 21-30 July, 2019 [18]
53rd Osaka  Japan first days of August, 2021 [18]


External links[edit]

Preparatory problems, final results, and the theoretical and practical examinations from particular competition can be found on the respective IChO's website.