Accessible Published by De Gruyter December 16, 2016

IChO-48—An Extraordinary Olympiad of Chemistry

Elizbar Elizbarashvili, Natia Ochkhikidze and Gia Khatisashvili
From the journal Chemistry International


Georgia became a member of the International Chemistry Olympiad (IChO) at the 2014 Olympiad in Vietnam, but our first participation in IChO was in Washington in July 2012, when I [Elizbar Elizbarashvili] was an observer.

I still remember this exceptional event as if it was yesterday. At the end of the Olympiad the steering committee distributed a special survey among the participants. The questions seemed very standard and simple to answer, except for the last one: Is it possible that your country be considered as the host country for the future IChOs?

I thought for more than five minutes. Georgia, a small country, and IChO, such a huge event, were incomparable. As I started to mark a small square beside “NO”, suddenly a voice whispered in my mind—anything is theoretically possible in science! Really, theoretically anything is possible… in the future…. Not tomorrow, next year, or the year after it… but in “the future”, somewhere beyond the visible and imaginable. Lost in deep dreams, I marked the answer “YES”.

Only four years have passed since this event, and this mystical future has become a tangible reality—in 2016, Georgia became the host country of the extraordinary IChO-48.

Why extraordinary? Normally, a country willing to host IChO must declare their candidacy at least three years prior to the Olympiad. Therefore, the hosts of the chemistry Olympiad are already known until 2021. But this year was an exception. The planned Olympiad in Pakistan was canceled in February 2016, leaving the Steering Committee of IChO only a few months to find a new host country. The call was immediately sent out to all member countries. It is clear that to make such a decision was very difficult. Only a few countries (Georgia, Latvia, Hungary, and Kazakhstan) affirmed their readiness to think about the steering committee’s offer. Finally, Georgia sent the agreement letter to the Steering Committee of the IChO in the beginning of May and officially became the host of IChO-48. Prior to the final decision, a great and hard job had been done by both sides—by the Minister of Education and Science of Georgia, Mrs. Tamar Sanikidze, as well as the steering committee of the IChO, chaired by Dr. Gabor Magyarfalvi.

Very little time was left for thinking and immediately both sides started taking direct actions. Fortunately, small countries have little bureaucracy—Georgia avoided it completely. At the Ministry of Education and Science a special commission, chaired by the Deputy Minister of Education and Science, was created with the approval of the Prime Minister. The commission was completed by most of the deputy ministers of internal and foreign affairs, health, tourism and culture, economics, etc. In addition, a local steering committee was formed within the framework of the Shota Rustaveli Science Foundation (chair George Jgenti, co-chair prof. Elizbar Elizbarashvili, secretary Dr. Natia Ochkhikidze, financial manager Mr. Malkhaz Khoperia), comprising representatives from different organizations (including the host university—Agricultural University of Georgia, Tbilisi) responsible for the arrangement of theoretical and practical tours, accommodation, transportation, meal, social activities, as well as the preparation of printing materials and catalyzers, etc. The steering committee formed an international science committee and assigned theoretical and practical tasks. The Science Committee provided assistance to the excellent local team composed of the professors, staff, and students of the Agricultural University of Georgia, Tbilisi. Experienced mentors who were not involved in national preparations formed a small advisory board.

Members of the advisory team were Gabor Magyarfalvi (Hungary, problems editor); Alexander Gladilin (Russia, practical team chair), Wolfgang Hampe† (Germany), Manfred Kerschbaumer (Austria), Gia Khatisashvili (Georgia), JL Kiappes (USA), Igrar Nazarov (Azerbaijan), Peter Wothers (UK), Elizbar Elizbarashvili (Georgia).

Problems were handled by Mikhail Beklemishev (Russia), Seth Brown (USA), Alexander Dubenskiy (Russia), Radha Jayaram (India), JL Kiappes (USA), Gyorgy Koczan (Hungary), Gabor Magyarfalvi (Hungary), Vita Nikitina (Russia, practical exam coordinator), Igor Sedov (Russia), Attila Villanyi (Hungary), Dmitro Volochnyuk (Ukraine), Peter Wothers (UK), Peter Zagyi (Hungary).

Other committee members were Peter Bolgar (Hungary), Marton Boros (Hungary), Kakha Didebulidze (Georgia), Natalia Dyachenko (Russia), Petr Holzhauser (Czech Republic), Dmytro Kandaskalov (Ukraine), Revaz Korashvili (Georgia), Bertalan Kovacs (Hungary), Savita Ladage (India), Gabor Lente (Hungary), Elena Lukovskaya (Russia), Andrei Marinchyuk (Russia), Katalin Osz (Hungary), Dora Palya (Hungary), Andrei Shved (Belarus), Nadine Szczepanski (USA), Tamas Voros (Hungary).

Travel of the foreign members of the Science Committee was supported by the Taiwan IChO organization, Georgian organizers, Gedeon Richter Pharmaceuticals, Servier, Korean Chemical Society, and the Oxford Glycobiology Institute. All contributors were volunteers, receiving no compensation.

Practical problems were selected, paying attention to constraints (short time available, laboratory facilities), by a subcommittee, including Elizbar Elizbarashvili (Georgia), Alexander Gladilin (Russia, practical subcommittee chair), Gia Khatisashvili (Georgia), Gabor Magyarfalvi (Hungary, problems editor), and Igrar Nazarov (Azerbaijan).

Candidates for theory problems were invited from many sources. 28 excellent submissions were received from three continents. We are grateful to every submitter. The advisory board selected the theory exam from this set without knowing the authors.

The selected task authors proposed further science committee members, who helped in marking the exams. Science Committee members themselves took the same exams as the students, and the final tasks reflect their suggestions.

The main organizers of the IChO-48 were the Ministry of Education and Science of Georgia, the Shota Rustaveli National Science Foundation, and the Association of Professional Chemists of Georgia. The host university was Agricultural University of Georgia, Tbilisi, established in 1929 and since then the primary university in Georgia for higher education in agriculture and related fields. After a period of decline following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the university was privatized in 2011 and work began immediately to make it a modern, high-quality research university. The Agricultural University was given new life by Kakha Bendukidze, one of the outstanding representatives of modern Georgian statesmanship and education. The reforms he initiated greatly impacted the Georgian economy, making it more sustainable, vibrant, and modern. Since 2011, millions of dollars have been spent on the renovation of educational and research infrastructure, while the new management recruits high-quality Georgian and foreign scientists and professors, revises curriculums and syllabuses in accordance with the best models from Europe and America, and facilitates and promotes research activities in the agricultural sector. The university’s commitment to excellence and its rapid progress are widely recognized in Georgia. In the fall of 2014, the performance of its entering freshman class at the unified national exams placed the university in fourth place out of a total of almost 60 universities in the country. Just four years earlier, the university had been ranked in the bottom half.

The university’s offerings and activities fall under three broad subject headings: Agricultural and Natural Sciences, Technology and Engineering, and Business Administration.

The Olympiad has been supported by the Government of Georgia and sponsored by Liberty bank of Georgia, Oil Company “Gulf Georgia”, IUPAC, The Chemical Society of Japan, Gedeon Richter Co., Servier Co, CAS (a division of the American Chemical Society), Intel, UGT, HP, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Geocell, the Georgian National Museum, and the Georgian National Center of Manuscripts.

 Steps by IChO (Designed by Mariam Elizbarashvili)

Steps by IChO (Designed by Mariam Elizbarashvili)

 The Practical Examination began with the distribution of students among the labs

The Practical Examination began with the distribution of students among the labs

The 2016 International Chemistry Olympiad was opened on 23 July. 67 participating and two observing countries registered. In total, 516 participants (67 head mentors, 66 mentors, 62 scientific observers, 264 students, 24 guests, and 33 invited members of scientific committee) attended the Olympiad.

Unfortunately, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Cuba, Ireland, Montenegro, Oman, Portugal, Turkey, and Venezuela could not join Olympiad this year. However, by decision of the Steering Committee of the IChO, certificates of appreciation were prepared for students who had been selected for the national teams but were unable to attend the IChO in Tbilisi due to various reasons (Austria, Canada, Belgium, Portugal, Turkey, Montenegro, Venezuela).

Practical and theoretical tasks were approved by jury meetings according to regulations. Both were shorter than previous jury meetings, which indicates the good job done by task authors. The practical tour comprised three tasks. The students had to identify 10 unknown inorganic compounds in the first task. Georgia is rich in mineral water resources. Therefore, the authors dedicated the second practical task to mineral water analysis, namely the determination of fluoride and chloride content in mineral water. The third task included the identification of 13 unknown organic compounds having different flavors and fragrances.

 The bronze medal of IChO-48

The bronze medal of IChO-48

On the theoretical tour, students had to solve eight problems in five hours. The first problem included electrochemistry of nitrogen trifluoride, while the second related to one of the first materials used in solid state electronics: copper (I) oxide and its crystal structure. Iodine deficiency is of special concern in Georgia, because the country occupies a region where iodine is scarce in soil and water. Authors dedicated the third task to this problem and each student was asked to answer several questions about iodine and iodate transformations. The next problem was about the application of kinetic studies to water treatment. The fifth student’s challenge was very interesting and examined the chemistry of ancient pigments: Egyptian and Chinese blue. The next two problems were from organic chemistry and comprised the multistep synthesis of galantamine (acetylcholinestrase inhibitor used as a medicine against Alzheimer’s disease) and dolasertonmesylate. The last problem was about the chemistry of sugars.

 Practical Examination in progress at the Agricultural University of Georgia

Practical Examination in progress at the Agricultural University of Georgia

In total, 170 students from 264 were awarded medals and nine students received honorable mention. The medals distribution was as follows: 30 gold (11.36%), 57 silver (21.59%), and 83 bronze (31.44%) medals. The highest total points (practical and theoretical tasks) was 96.847. The lowest for a gold medal was 82.371 points. From 81.921 to 67.745 and from 67.367 to 48.901 were the maximum and minimum points for silver and bronze medals, respectively. Students with points from 48.717 to 47.522 were awarded with special certificates (honorable mention). In addition, the President of IUPAC, Prof. Natalia Tarasova, awarded three students with diplomas and special prices for the best practical, theoretical, and total score, and the oil company “Gulf Georgia” presented the best student from the Georgian team with a laptop.

The program of the Olympiad was enriched by social events held along with the scientific part. Opening and closing ceremonies were held in the Shota Rustaveli National Theater. The participants became familiar with Georgian polyphonic folk songs and amazing dancing after the official welcome speeches of the Minister of Education and Science of Georgia, President of IChO-48 Mr. Alexandre Jejelava, director of Shota Rustaveli National Science foundation Prof. Marine Chitachvili, and the chair of the Steering Committee of IChO Dr. Gabor Magyarfalvi. The prime minister of Georgia, Mr. Giorgi Kvrikashvili, attended the closing ceremony and commended the participants for visiting Georgia. As he indicated in his address to the participants of the event, “Olympiads, besides promoting science, encourage friendship and cooperation between students. It is during Olympiads that close ties are established between future scientists and best practices are exchanged. It is an exciting time—you are here today to compete against your peers from across the world! What is particularly exciting for me is to see that there is such a strong interest for chemistry amongst young generations.”

In her address before awarding the gold medals, Prof. Natalia Tarasova said: “I will start with quotation of Shota Rustaveli (Georgian poet of 12th-century, considered to be the preeminent poet of the Georgian Golden Age and one of the greatest contributors to Georgian literature); It was written eight centuries ago, but it sounds as if it were written today. Translated to English: “the knowledge is needed to strengthen the human spirit”. Today this combination of spirit and knowledge is highly demonstrated here, in Tbilisi, a country of ancient culture by the people who like to dedicate the life to the chemistry…”

In addition, excursions were included in the mentor, student, and guest programs. Participants had the opportunity to become familiar with the history of Georgia. They visited the ancient capital city, Mtskheta, and the ancient Jvari monastery, the Kakheti region with a wine tour, the historical national museum and the museum of Georgian manuscripts, and other sights of north and south Georgia (Rabati and Narigkala castles, Gergeti monastery, etc ).

The flag of IChO was transferred to the delegation from Thailand, the next host country, at the closing ceremony. I-Jy Chang from Taiwan was elected chair of the Steering Committee of IChO-49 at the last jury meeting. Each day’s activities were memorialized by daily catalyzers, prepared by Natalia Ingorokva and Nino Macharashvili and designed by Mariam Elizbarashvili.

Finally, it must be noted that the extraordinary Olympiad was realized according to international standards in a very positive atmosphere as a result of the laborious and very well coordinated work of local organizers and the international science committee. As evidence of this, I would like to conclude by quoting the feedback of student Omar Alshangiti from Saudi Arabia, written on the IChO-48 web page after returning home: “Earlier this year I was both anxious and depressed, because I thought that there may not be an IChO in 2016, and that my work for the past three years has gone for nothing. And after I received the happy news that this year’s IChO will be in Georgia, I honestly didn’t expect to see much since the competition was organized few months before it actually started, but what I saw was really impressing; everything is well organized and well done starting from the smallest details to the tasks of the competition. I felt the carefulness and dedication flying around in the atmosphere of the hotel, the university, and especially the hospital (: You guys definitely did all that you can in a professional way. At last, I want to thank you for making this life-time experience such beautiful, challenging, and fun.”

Online erschienen: 2016-12-16
Erschienen im Druck: 2016-12-1

©2016 by Walter de Gruyter Berlin/Boston