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The Canadian program for the International Chemistry Olympiad: past, present and future.

Although the process is quite complex, it all works amazingly well

The 24th International Chemistry Olympiad (IChO), involving 33 nations, was held this past July in Pittsburgh, PA. The Olympiad is an annual event which brings together the best pre-university students from around the world.

The first IChO was held in Prague, in 1968, with only Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland participating. Since then it has been held every year, except 1971. The first nation outside eastern Europe to participate was Sweden (1974) and the first national outside this block to host an Olympiad was Austria (1980). Of the first 24 Olympiads, 17 have been held in eastern Europe and this year marked the first time the Olympiad has been held in the western hemisphere.

Each participating country sends a team of four students along with two leaders who are also members of the International Jury. The methods for determining the make-up of a team vary tremendously from country to country. The only official limitations on the team are that the students must not have started university, must be under 20 years of age at the start of the Olympiad and, as a team, they must not have had special training together for more than three weeks.

The host nation prepares both a theoretical and practical examination, each of five hours in length; the examinations must then receive the approval of the International Jury. The host nation grades all of the examinations using a key also approved by the International Jury and, at the same time, the Jury members from each country grade their own students. The final marks are only assigned after both sets of graders agree. This may sound rather complex, but it is quite amazing how well the process works. Medals are then awarded on the following basis: top 10% - gold; the next 20% - silver; and the next 30% - bronze.

The students have a large block of free time in the 11-day event, most of it is taken up with visits to the local tourist sites. With the exam approval and the subsequent grading, the members of the jury are lucky to have a couple of days off for sightseeing.

The Canadian Olympiad program

The initial driving force for Canada's involvement in both the Chemistry and Physics Olympiads was Harry Giles, the then headmaster of the Toronto French School (TFS). Although the programs today are national, the TFS continues to be the head office of the Canadian Chemistry and Physics Olympiad. John Wylie is the co-ordinator as well as the secretary-treasurer of the board of directors. The present board consists of: president, David MacNaughton, CEO, Hill & Knowlton Canada; vice-president, Harry Giles, founder, TFS; secretary treasurer, John Wylie, TFS; member: Cecil Pickett, vice-president, Centre for Therapeutic Research; CIC liaison, Marvin Silbert, consulting chemist; CAP liaison, Napoleon Gauthier, Royal Military College.

Canada first participated in the IChO in 1986. The following gives the details of the team members and the results for each team:

Canadian Olympiad Teams (1986-92)

* 1986-Leiden, The Netherlands: Michael Gharghouri, Toronto French School; Alexandre Huboux Toronto French School, bronze medal; Emilie Hooft, Toronto French School; Colin Plumb, University of Toronto Schools, gold medal.

* 1987-Veszprem, Hungary: Sean Finucane, Toronto French School; Mila Oh, St. John's Ravenscourt School, Winnipeg; Jasdip Sachdeva, Toronto French School.

* 1988-Helsinki, Finland: Chris Gunn, Steveston H.S., Richmond, B.C., bronze medal; Julia Kubanek, John Abbott College, Ste. Anne de Bellevue, Que., bronze medal; Steven Postma, De La Salle College, Toronto; Vince Wong, St. Robert H.S., Thornhill, Ont., bronze medal.

* 1989-Halle, German Democratic Republic: Christopher Chan, Toronto French School, bronze medal; Stephen Cheng, St. Patrick's H.S., Vancouver; Denis Deschenes, College de Baie Comeau, Que.; Marilena Fitzsimons, John Abbott College, Ste. Anne de Bellevue, Que., silver medal.

* 1990-Paris, France: Julie Filion, Champlain Regional College, Lennoxville. Que., bronze medal; Howard Fischer, Marianopolis College, Montreal; Margaret Shih, Steveston H.S., Richmond, B.C.; David Thiel, South Huron H.S., Exeter, Ont., bronze medal.

* 1991-Lodz, Poland: Jennifer Bryce, Western Canada H.S., Calgary, bronze medal; Rumi Faizer, Marianopolis College, Montreal; Erik Rubin, John Abbott College, Ste. Anne de Bellevue, Que., silver medal; David Thiel, South Huron H.S., Exeter, Ont., bronze medal.

* 1992-Pittsburgh, U.S.A.: James Baughan, Western Canada H.S., Calgary; Roman Elinson, University of Toronto Schools, Dileepan Joseph, Grant Park H.S., Winnipeg; Sean Margison, Yale H.S., Vancouver.

In Canada's first year all four of the students came from the Toronto area. Training sessions were held on Saturday mornings at the TFS with the help of their teachers and faculty from the University of Toronto. The fact that Colin Plumb won a gold medal in Canada's first Olympiad was an unexpected success and a big boost to the program.

The following year funds could be found only for three students. However, 1987 did mark the presence on the team of the first student from outside Toronto. The year 1988 marked the first time that one could consider the program to be truly "national". Gordon Bates of the chemistry department of the University of British Columbia organized problem sets and a training session for the students of that province and the author started a similar program in Quebec, in both official languages. John Dove and Leslie Barton continued their involvement with the students from Ontario.

The co-ordination of the preparation of all other students from across Canada was handled out of the national office at the TFS and, in fact, there was very little involvement from these other provinces. A national selection examination was given in mid-May and the four best students, based on the results in this exam only, were chosen for the team. Unlike the majority of other nations in the competition, Canada was unable to hold a special training camp for its students. The students met each other for the first time at Mirabel Airport, on the way to Helsinki.

In 1989, through the efforts of John Wylie, the TFS and others and through the generosity of foundations, the private sector, government agencies and ministries of education, enough money was raised to allow for the holding of a training camp. Based on the results of a national selection examination, 12 students were invited to the University of British Columbia for a one-week training session at the end of which the four team members were selected. The students came from Quebec (4), Ontario (4), British Columbia (3) and Nova Scotia (1).

Because of the increased financial involvement of NSERC and the corporate sector, one-week training camps for 20 students have now been held every year. In 1990, the camp was held at Bishop's University; in 1990, at The Royal Military College, and this year back at the University of British Columbia. As well, other organizers have become involved in the yearlong training process. The chemistry academic committee (area of responsibility) now consists of: G. Bates, University of British Columbia (B.C., Yukon, NWT and Alberta); R. Cook, Bishop's University (Quebec, P.E.I. and New Brunswick); D. Farrar, University of Toronto (Ontario); P. Georghiou, Memorial University (Newfoundland); K. Grundy, Dalhousie University (Nova Scotia); G. Hickling, University of Manitoba (Manitoba); L. Barton, Toronto French School (all other areas). Bates and Cook are members of the International Jury and team leaders.

Another very positive initiative started in 1991, when Merck Frosst hosted a special three-day training camp for the team members. This camp was held just prior to the team leaving for the Olympiad in Lodz. Once again this year, a very productive camp was held at Merck Frosst. Merck scientists gave a series of special lectures and the team members carried out experiments in the Merck Frosst Centre for Therapeutic Research laboratories.

The national office has attempted to follow the careers of the team members. Of the 25 team members who have already gone on to university, 16 are known to have gone into biochemistry, chemistry or chemical engineering, four into other science fields and five are not, at this time, accounted for. Two of the past team members worked this summer at Merck Frosst Centre for Therapeutic Research in Montreal.

From this year's team, Dileepan Joseph has one more year of high school, while the other three members, Sean Margison, Roman Elinson and James Baughan, are now enrolled in science or engineering programs at the University of British Columbia, the University of Toronto and the University of Alberta, respectively.

Co-ordinators needed

In order to continue strengthening our national infrastructure, we are always seeking interested co-ordinators in the different areas of the country. Ideally, these individuals would be university or college professors of chemistry who are interested in liaising with pre-university students and their teachers. Needless to say, this is an excellent recruiting tool for the institution.

The most important news for the future is, however, the acceptance of Canada's bid to host the 1997 International Chemistry Olympiad. This will be the first time that a nation has acted as a host to the two Olympiads "Chemistry and Physics" in the same year. The board of directors believes that it will be much easier to raise the necessary money to hold two Olympiads in one year, rather than the two separated by a year or two. It is a major financial undertaking because the rules of the Olympiads state that the host nation must cover all expenses from the moment the teams arrive in the country until they leave.


The total annual budget of the Canadian Chemistry and Physics Olympiad organization is approximately $90,000. It is through the generosity of the sponsors that Canadian students can participate in these prestigious events. The main financial sponsors are the Toronto French School and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council.

In the corporate sector, the research based pharmaceutical company Merck Frosst Canada Inc. has been the major contributor. Financial support has also come from a wide cross-section of foundations, corporations and governments. These include: The McLean Foundation, The Borland Foundation, Canadian Society for Chemistry, Investors Group Inc., John Wiley & Sons Canada, Ciba-Geigy Canada, Celanese Canada Inc., Power Corporation of Canada, Bell Canada, Imperial Oil Ltd., Dow Chemical, Shell Canada Ltd., DuPont Canada, Royal Bank of Canada, Spar Aerospace Ltd., and the governments of Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia.

Bishop's University, the University of British Columbia, the University of Toronto, the University of Manitoba, Dalhousie University, McGill University, The Royal Military College and the Memorial University of Newfoundland support the Olympiads through their extensive training and selection of Canadian students.

The Canadian Chemistry Olympiad program has played an effective role in giving students a wider appreciation of chemistry as a career and in helping to improve standards in the discipline. Although only a few students compete at the international level, the program in the different provinces reaches a wide audience. The publicity that comes with both winning a place on the Canadian team and winning a medal has been considerable, especially in the home town of the student involved, and it has been a great help in publicizing the Canadian Olympiad Program and chemistry in general.

Further information about the Canadian Chemistry and Physics Olympiads can be obtained by writing the author or John Wylie, CCPO, 306 Lawrence Ave. E., Toronto, Ont. M4N IT7.

The CCPO is a non-profit corporation under the Canada Corporations Act. It was incorporated in October 1985 and its registered number is: 0736819-20.

Robert D. Cook, MCIC, department of chemistry, Bishop's University.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Chemical Institute of Canada
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Author:Cook, Robert D.
Publication:Canadian Chemical News
Date:Oct 1, 1992
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