A flair of the Olympics at TH Köln

Gruppenbild des Vorbereitungsseminars für die NRW-Landesauswahl. (Image: Thilo Schmülgen/TH Köln)

For the third time, pupils from NRW took part in the state preparatory seminar for the International Chemistry Olympiad at TH Köln. The practical laboratory part was once again organized by the Faculty of Applied Natural Sciences. The participants had one goal firmly in mind: The grand finale in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in July 2024.

Following their successes in the first two selection rounds, 19 of the 20 best young chemists in the country prepared for the next challenges in the five-day intensive seminar. These are initially the two-stage national selection and ultimately the international competition.

The students have already successfully completed a homework assignment and a written exam in recent months. Six of them will receive a ticket for the third round of the Chemistry Olympiad in May at the University of Göttingen. They have the chance to advance to the fourth round with the 15 best students in Germany and qualify for the national team.

"Chemistry and laboratory practice go hand in hand. That's why we as the "Chemistry Faculty" at the Leverkusen campus are delighted to once again be able to offer our NRW-best Chemistry Olympians their first independent scientific experimentation in a modern university laboratory," says Prof. Dr. Dirk Burdinski, Dean of Studies at the Faculty of Applied Natural Sciences. "We were able to gain additional flexibility this year thanks to the excellent cooperation with the Institute of Plant and Process Engineering at TH Köln on the Deutz campus. The participants were able to get to know two teaching and research locations of TH Köln at the same time."

In the laboratories where university practical courses in chemistry and materials science usually take place, the participants produced the fluorescent dye fluorescein, which is used as an indicator in analytical chemistry, among other things. The students then used the product they had obtained to determine the unknown concentration of a solution containing chloride. That same evening, the young researchers assessed and discussed the results obtained according to scientific standards.

"By combining the challenging synthesis of fluorescein and its use in a subsequent salt analysis, the participants not only gained practical laboratory insights into the two major material disciplines, organic and inorganic chemistry, but also strengthened important preparative and analytical skills," says Burdinski.

Birgit Vieler, State Representative of the Chemistry Olympiad, adds: "As the competition progresses, laboratory practice becomes increasingly important. In addition to theoretical exam tasks, increasingly complex laboratory tasks must be completed successfully in exam format in order to reach the next round. We want to prepare our participants for this in the best possible way. At the same time, we want to maintain their enthusiasm for chemical issues in the long term and perhaps also open up career prospects. Thanks to our long-standing partnership with TH Köln, we can place a stronger focus on experimental methods than in everyday school life and thus turn chemistry into an experience."

In addition to the participants, parents, teachers and representatives from politics and school administration were also invited to the grand seminar closing and certificate presentation at the Leverkusen campus. The Minister for Schools and Education of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, Dorothee Feller, congratulated the students in a video message on what they had achieved so far. In keeping with tradition, the participants reflected on the five-day seminar in a detailed presentation and highlighted key learning moments. As participation in the Chemistry Olympiad is not tied to a specific year, some of the students may even return to Leverkusen next year.

International Chemistry Olympiad 2024

The International Chemistry Olympiad (IChO) is an annual global competition in which 89 countries currently participate. By tackling exciting questions, the Olympiad aims to arouse interest and enthusiasm for the subject of chemistry among pupils. More than 1,500 chemistry enthusiasts took part in the German selection process. The team from NRW is being supervised by Birgit Vieler and Dr. Simon Scheeren, NRW's representatives for the International Chemistry Olympiad. In several rounds, questions from theory and practice relating to chemistry will be worked on in various formats. At the end, a four-member German team is selected for the international round. The requirements are well above the level of the Abitur.

February 2024