The Swiss Chemistry Olympiad aims to select four promising young chemists from across Switzerland to represent their country at the International Chemistry Olympiad (IChO). The selection is divided into three rounds and preparation events, which are described in detail below. These national rounds follow the guidelines and regulations agreed upon by the International Steering Committee and the International Jury.
However, the competition is not only a selection process: it also brings together like-minded people who share an enthusiasm for chemistry and introduce students to more in-depth chemistry than the high school curriculum.
A 40-minute questionnaire about basic knowledge in general chemistry is published online in four languages at the start of each school year. Interested students under the age of 20 at the time of the next IChO and currently studying in a Swiss High School, an International School or Professional School may answer the questions at home or in class. There are usually around 300 submissions and the top 60 students are invited to the second round.
First Preparation Weekend
At the end of November, the students who have qualified for the second round are invited to a weekend (Saturday-Sunday) at the University of Basel. Basic knowledge in Chemistry is consolidated and the foundations for advanced topics are taught. The lectures, given by professors and Ph.D. students, are short and interactive. Furthermore, there is time for laboratory visits and the exchange between participants. Accommodation at the Youth Hostel is provided by SwissChO, for free.
The second round takes place on a mid-January weekend (Friday-Saturday) at the University of Berne. During this time, the students are accommodated in a Youth Hostel, for free. Beside the exam on Saturday, the students also receive a lecture on exam techniques, get a whiff of life at the University of Berne, visit research laboratories and attend a talk about a current research topic given by a senior scientist or professor. The exam itself lasts three hours and consists of ten to twelve theoretical problems. These problems cover a broad range of topics, where the candidates are not supposed to being able to solve them all: This allows the students to focus on their individual strengths and knowledge. The top sixteen students are then selected and invited for the next round, starting with two more preparation weekends.
At the beginning of February, the candidates are invited to a preparatory weekend at the EPF Lausanne. This lasts for three days, from Friday to Sunday, and the students are accommodated in a Youth Hostel, for free. After a short lecture on the theory involved in laboratory work, they will solve practical tasks in the lab including titrations and organic syntheses, all working individually, guided by members of SwissChO.
In March, the same students are invited to the University of Zurich to improve their knowledge in theoretical aspects of chemistry. This part involves no lab work, but short theoretical courses given by professors and Ph.D. students on solving advanced chemistry problems. It lasts for two days, from Saturday to Sunday, and the students are accommodated in a Youth Hostel, for free.
These preparatory weekends allow students to not only deepen their chemistry knowledge and capabilities with hands-on learning, but also get an insight to different Universities and get in touch with academics.
The preparation for the final exam lasts one week and is held in ETH Zürich during the week following Easter. Students are taught advanced topics, both theoretical and practical, from Tuesday through Thursday. Friday is reserved for a theoretical exam in the morning and a practical exam in the lab in the afternoon. During the final ceremony on Saturday morning, the four students who will represent Switzerland in the IChO later in July are announced. These students will receive some some more tailored pieces of training in the meantime.
International Chemistry Olympiad
The International Chemistry Olympiad (IChO) is an annual chemistry competition for high school students. The event usually lasts ten days in July and is hosted by a different country each year. All participating country may send four candidates and two mentors. One of the days is devoted to the practical exam and one to the theoretical exam, each lasting 5 hours. During days without an exam, sightseeing and activities are organized by the host country. Most importantly, participants will be interacting with other students from all over the world, making friends and so building an international network among promising young chemists. Having no contact with their mentors during this time, each team is cared for by a local guide, fluent in the languages of the participants.
For information on this year’s IChO 2021 in Osaka, Japan, see https://www.icho2021.org/.
For information on the "remote access" IChO 2020 in Istanbul, Turkey, see https://icho2020.tubitak.gov.tr and https://www.facebook.com/InternationalChemistryOlympiad/. There you can also find all information how we chemists as a global community tackled the Covid-19 pandemic and held our competition remotely!
Throughout the competition, the olympiad covers all necessary expenses for students. This includes travel costs by public transport (2nd class), food, and accommodation.
In agreement with the Schulamt Liechtenstein, SwissChO is also in charge of selecting and training students from the Fürstentum towards their participation at IChO. Students partake in the same exams as Swiss students and participate in the same preparatory events. Their top ten students are invited to the Basel weekend and the second round where the final four will be selected to attend the further preparation and the national finals where they can secure their ticket for IChO. All costs (travel by 2nd class public transport, food, and accommodation) are covered by SwissChO or Schulamt Lichtenstein as well.