The Origin of the International Science Olympiads
The title ‘Science Olympiad’ is credited to Mr. Thomas Ewbank, who in his report to the US Congress in 1849, proposed that an ‘Olympics of Science’ be established to stimulate science and innovation, which he believed would contribute to the prosperity of the USA. The idea was re-activated by President Richard Nixon in 1972 in his address to congress on science and technology. This, however, were not aimed at schools but were directed towards adult scientists and inventors.
The use of the word “Olympiad”, linking excellence in a science competition with excellence in an athletics competition (Olympic Games), was first used in 1934 by the Leningrad State University when it established the Leningrad Mathematical Olympiad (LMO).
The Moscow Mathematical Olympiad (MMO) for junior students was established the following year. The main goal of the LMO and the MMO was to encourage all Leningrad and Moscow students to strive for excellence in mathematics. These Olympiads spread mainly to large industrialised cities throughout the Soviet Union. While the identification and discovery of outstanding mathematicians was recognised as a goal, the main aim was the promotion of mathematical knowledge and interest in mathematics among the school population. These are the oldest mathematics competitions in Russia, though not the oldest recorded mathematics competition in the world.
The International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO) traces it’s origins to an 1894 Mathematics Competition held in Hungary called the Eötvös Mathematical Competition (known as the Eötvös – Kürschák Mathematical Competition since 1938). This is regarded as the oldest modern mathematical competition not only in Hungary but also in the world. The 1st International Mathematics Olympiad (IMO) was held Braşov, Romania on the 21st-31st July 1959. Seven countries including Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, German Democratic Republic (GDR), Hungary, Poland, and Romania were represented by eight students and the USSR by four students. 52 students in all took part, 46 male and 6 female. Three gold medals were awarded to students from Czechoslovakia, Romania and Hungary. Three silver medals were awarded to students from Romania (2) and Hungary. Five bronze medals were awarded to students from Romania (2) and Hungary (2) and the USSR. Honourable Mention awards were made to students from the USSR (2), Hungary (1), Bulgaria (1), Czechoslovakia (3), Romania (1) and Poland (1).
Encouraged by the success of the IMO, Professor Czesław Ścisłowski, the organiser of the Polish Physics Olympiad, established the 1st International Physics Olympiad (IPhO) in Warsaw, Poland in 1967. Invitations were sent to all the Communist/Soviet Bloc countries. The invitations were accepted by Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Romania. Each country was represented by three students. Seven students were awarded gold medals. Because of the marking scheme, where the scores of the top three students determined the cut off point for the other medals, no silver and no bronze medal were awarded. However four honourable mentions were awarded. The number of students per country was increased to five in 1969, six in 1970 and back to five again in 1971, where it has remained. 1972 is an important year for the International Science Olympiad because the first non-European country, Cuba and the first western country, France attended the IPhO. Poland organised the IPhO in Warsaw in 1974, for the second time. On this occasion Sweden and the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) was invited to attend. The first IPhO organised by a non-socialist country was the 13th IPhO which took place in Malente, FRG, in 1982 and the second was in Sigtuna, Sweden, in 1984.
The 1st International Chemistry Olympiad (IChO) took place in Prague, Czechoslovakia, on June 18th – 21st 1968. Three countries, Czechoslovakia, Poland and Hungary took part with three teams of six pupils. Prior to 1968 the Chemistry Olympiad was a part of a secondary school system in all Soviet Bloc countries. In the spring 1968 the Czechoslovak Chemistry Olympiad National Committee supported by the Ministry of Education, sent letters of invitation to all socialist countries, except Romania, which was not welcome by the Soviet Union at that time. However, by May the relationship between Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union was strained and only Poland and Hungary accepted the invitation. Romania, the host of the 6th IChO in 1974 invited Sweden and Yugoslavia. Austria and FRG sent observers. In 1980 the IChO was held for the first time in a non-socialist country. Linz, Austria hosted the 12th IChO in July 13th-23rd 1980. The Netherlands, Italy, and Belgium participated but the Soviet Union withdrew.
A biology competition between Czechoslovakia and Poland from 1985 -1989 and the success of the other science Olympiads laid the foundation stone of the International Biology Olympiad (IBO). UNESCO asked Czechoslovakia to establish the IBO centre in Charles University, Prague in 1989. The 1st International Biology Olympiad (IBO) was held in Olomouc, Moravia, Czech Republic in July 1990 with six countries: – Belgium, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East German (GDR), Poland and the Soviet Union. All except Belgium were aligned to the USSR. The number of participating countries had increased incrementally since.
Professor Blagovest Hristov Sendov, Professor in numerical analysis, Sofia University, Bulgaria proposed the idea of an International Olympiad in Informatics (IOI) for school students at the 24th General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in Paris in October 1987. His proposal was accepted and UNESCO sponsored the first IOI. The 1st International Olympiad in Informatics (IOI) was held Pravetz, Bulgaria on the 16th -19th May 1989. Following Professor Sendov’s presentation to the 24th General Conference of UNESCO in Paris in 1987 a UNESCO consultation conference was held in the University of Twente, the Netherlands on the 22nd-24th March 1989 on “ Future Developments of International Science Olympiads for Youth”. Professor Pavel Azalov Bulgaria, presented a report on the Bulgarian competitions in Informatics which had been running since 1979. In 1987 Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, GDR, Romania and the USSR took part an Informatics Open Competition and in 1988, they were joined by Cuba and Hungry. Bulgaria offered to host the 1st International Olympiad in Informatics and it was held Pravetz, Bulgaria in May 1989. Thirteen countries participated with three students, including the 1987 countries and the GDR, Greece, China, Poland, Vietnam, Yugoslavia and Zimbabwe. Gold medals were awarded to six students, five students received silver medals and seven were awarded bronze medals. Ms. Anita Laloo (Zimbabwe) aged 13 was the youngest contestant and the only girl.
The International Science Olympiads in Mathematics (1959), Physics (1967) and Chemistry (1968) were first established in the Eastern and Central European socialists countries aligned to the USSR commonly referred as the Eastern Bloc, Communist Bloc or Soviet Bloc countries. The title “International Science Olympiads” was therefore a misnomer because for a number of years only these Communist /Soviet Bloc countries hosted and took part in the International Science Olympiads. These include, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany (GDR), Hungary, Poland, Romania and the Soviet Union. Yugoslavia and Albania, while communist countries, had independent foreign policies. More accurately these Olympiads should have been called “The Communist/Soviet Bloc Science Olympiads”.
The participants, predominantly male, in all the single subject International Science Olympiads compete as individuals and, with the exception of the IOI, complete a theory and a practical examination. The standard of the theory examination is beyond capability of the majority of final year secondary school students and many countries coach their students in special science classes and schools attached to universities. Medals and certificates of merit/distinction are awarded to up to 75% of participants. Records show that gold medals are awarded to the students from same few countries each year.
European Union Science Olympiad (EUSO)
What became an EU-wide science Olympiad had originally been envisioned by Dr. Michael A. Cotter, Dublin, Ireland as an All-Irish science initiative for 16 year-old Transition Year (Gap Year) students, the purpose of which was both educational; to help stem the tide of decline in science education in Ireland and political; to bring together Irish students from all religious, ethnic and social backgrounds. Ireland had already participated in five International Olympiads but participation had not helped to promote science in Irish schools. In addition, the conflict in Northern Ireland prevented Irish students from different religious and social backgrounds from mingling and socialising. The new science Olympiad was designed to bring students from all over Ireland together and to promote science. However, on the one hand while daunting, this ambitious project, had limited appeal. On the other hand to establish an EU-wide science Olympiad with the same of purpose of promoting practical science, elevating the debate on issues facing science and scientists to a global level and of facilitating the bringing together of 16-year old students from the expanding EU had even greater potential.
The EUSO is unique among the International Science Olympiads in that both test are multidisciplinary, integrated and practical, it is a team competition and each participant receives a medal.
The European Union Science Olympiad (EUSO) was founded by Dr. Michael A. Cotter. He developed his idea of a science competition for sixteen-year-old EU students following his experience as Founder and Managing Director of the Irish Science Olympiad (ISO) which he established in 1994 as the mechanism for selecting Irish students to represent Ireland at the IBO, IChO, IOI and IPhO. He wanted the new science competition to be different from the other International Science Olympiads in respect of student age, content, time of year and format. In addition, he wanted it to be complimentary to, and not in competition with, the existing International, Regional and National Science Olympiads and competitions.
In 1998 Dr. Cotter presented his plans for the EUSO to the Minister for Science and Technology in the Irish Government, Mr. Noel Treacy TD. The Minister who already has a reputation of encouraging novel ideas in Science Education welcomed the idea and became the EUSO Patron. Later that year he presented the concept to a meeting of EU Education and Science Ministers where it was welcomed enthusiastically.
Dr. Cotter and Minister Treacy decided to hold the 1st EUSO in Dublin City University (DCU) in April 2001 with funding provided by the Irish Government. Minister Treacy appointed Dr. Cotter, EUSO Managing Director (MD) and President. He sent letters to all fifteen EU Ministers for Science and Technology inviting them to nominate an EUSO Country Coordinator. All EU member states nominated a Country Coordinator. However in 2001, the Foot and Mouth disease outbreak occurred and travel between EU countries was restricted. It was decided to postpone the EUSO until April 2003.
In May 2002 the first meeting of the EUSO Governing Body (GB) was held in Dublin. It was attended by Dr. Michael A. Cotter (Chairperson & President), Mr. Gérard Cobut (Belgium), Dr. Eckhard Lucius (Germany), Dr. Kostas Kampouris (Greece), Mr. Edouard Ries (Luxembourg) and Mr. Carlos Romero Aires (Spain). Apologies were received from Mr. Mikkel Bohm (Denmark), Ms. Sandra Perugini Cigni (Italy), Mr. Hans Moralis, (Netherlands), Mr. Jan Sydhoff (Sweden), Mr.Eero Nurminen (Finland), Ms. Maria Zadrazil (Austria) and Mr. Manuel Fiolhais (Portugal).
The main elements of the EUSO Constitution are that:
- it is a multidisciplinary, integrated science, practical-based, team competition
- the week-long EUSO is a team event for EU students who were sixteen years of age or younger
- each delegation consist of 2 teams of 3 students, a country coordinator and 2/3 mentors
- the two-part competition is spread over two days with an interval of at least one day
- each part is integrated practical, team experiment, covering elements of biology, chemistry and physics in approximate equal proportions
The 14th EUSO will be held in Tartu, Estonia on 7th – 14th of May 2016. The Ministry of Education and Research of Estonia was the Patron. 23 countries were represented by a total of 46 teams (138 Students). The 2 integrated science experiments, Milk Day & Battery Day were developed by and held in Tartu University. The Scientific Committee was chaired by Prof. Jaak Kikas and the Organising Committee was chaired by Rector Prof. Marco Kirm. The Director was Dr. Karin Hellat.
The 13th EUSO will be held in Klagenfurt, Austria on 26th April-3rd May 2015. The Federal Ministry of Education was the Patron. 25 countries were represented by a total of 50 teams (150 Students). The 2 integrated experiments, Blowing in the Wind & Art Forgery were developed by University College of Teacher Education Carinthia, Karl-Franzens-University Graz and University College of Teacher Education Styria. The Scientific Committee was chaired by Prof. Dr. Konrad Krainer and the Organising Committee was chaired by Mag. Sigrid Holub. The Director was Dr. Peter Holub
The 12th EUSO will be held in Athens, Greece on the 30th March-April 6th 2014. The Eugenides Foundation (President Leonidas Dimitriadis-Eugenides) was the Patron. 25 countries were represented by a total of 50 teams (150 Students). The 2 integrated experiments, Olive Oil & Sea Water were developed by National Technical University of Athens. The Scientific Committee was chaired by Professor Andreas G. Boudouvis and the Organising Committee was chaired by Mr. Ioannis Sgouros, Head of the Region of Attica. The Director was Prof. Dr. Kostas Kampouris
The 11th EUSO was held in Luxembourg on the 17th-24th March 2013. SAR Grand-Duc héritier Prince Guillaume was the Patron. 26 countries were represented by 44 teams (132 students). The 2 integrated experiments, Silicon – from Nature to Hitec & Renewable Energy were developed by Luxembourg University. The Scientific Committee was chaired by Mr Edouard Ries, Ministry of Education and the Organising Committee was chaired by Minister of Education Mady Delvaux-Stehres. The Director was Dr. Jeff Kohnen.
The 10th EUSO was held in Vilnius, Lithuania on the 22nd – 29th April 20012. H.E. Mr. Valdas Adamkus, President of the Republic of Lithuania was the Honorary Patron. 22 countries were represented by a total of 44 teams (132 Students). The 2 integrated experiments, Amber & Oxygen Regeneration, were developed by and held in Vilnius University . The Scientific Committee was chaired by Prof. Dr. Aivaras Kareiva and the Organising Committee was chaired by the Dr. Ramunas Skaudzius. The Director was Dr. Paulius L. Tamosiunas.
The 9th EUSO was held in the cities of Pardubice and Hradec Kralove, Czech Republic on the 10th – 16th April 20011. The National Institute for Children and Youth was the Patron. 20 countries were represented by a total of 40 teams (120 Students). Italy and Greece sent Observers. The 2 integrated experiments, All about Beer & Lenses, were developed jointly by Charles University, Prague and the Universities of Pardubice and Hradec Kralove. The Scientific Committee was chaired by Dr. Jan Cerny and the Organising Committee was chaired by the Minister Michal Urban. The Director was Dr. Jiri Veverka.
The 8th EUSO was held in Gothenburg, Sweden on the 11th -17th April 2010. The Faculty of Science, Gothenburg was the Host and Patron. 21 countries were represented by a total of 42 teams (126 Students). The 2 integrated experiments, Properties of Water & CSI Sweden were developed by and held at the University. The Scientific Committee was chaired by Prof. Ann-Marie Pendrill and the Organising Committee was chaired by Prof. Anne-Sofie Martensson who also took on the role of Director. The eruption of Iceland’s Mount Eyjafjallajokull interrupted the return plans of some delegations.
The 7th EUSO was held in Murcia, Spain on 28th March – 05 April 2009. His Majesty King Juan Carlos I of Spain,was the Honorary President. 21 EU countries were represented by a total of 40 teams (120 Students). Romania and France sent Observers. The two integrated experiments, Fibres & Fruit, Juices and Food were developed by the Scientific Committee based at Murcia University under the direction of Prof. José Antonio Lozano Teruel and Prof. Manuel Hernández Córdoba. The Organising Committee was chaired by Ilma. Sra. Dna. Rosa Peñalver Pérez. Prof. Juan Antonio Rodríguez Renuncio was Director and the Coordinator was Dr. Jorge Molero Fernández.
6th EUSO (2008)
The 6th EUSO was held in Nicosia, Cyprus, on the 11th–17th May 2008. The Department of Education was the Patron. 21 countries were represented by a total of 33 teams (99 Students). The 2 integrated experiments, Energy from Light & Light Energy were developed by and held in the University of Cyprus. The Scientific Committee was chaired by Dr. Epaminondas Leontides and the Organising Committee was chaired by the Director of the Ministry of Education and Culture, Mrs Olympia Stylianou. The Director was Mr. Mikis Hadjineophytou
The 5th EUSO was held in Potsdam, Brandenburg, Germany on the 25th March – 1st April 2007. The Federal Ministry of Education and Research was the Patron. 16 countries were represented by a total of 29 teams (87 Students). Austria and Bulgaria sent Observers. International guests from Indonesia and Taiwan represented the IJSO. The 2 integrated experiments, All about the Potato & All about Starch were developed by and held in and held at the University of Potsdam. The Scientific Committee was chaired by Prof. Thomas Altmann and the Organising Committee was chaired by the Dr. Marlen Fritzsche. The Director was Dr. Eckhard Lucius.
The 4th EUSO was held in Brussels, Belgium, on the 2nd–8th April 2006. Her Majesty, Queen Paola of Belgium was the Patron. Twelve countries were represented by a total of 23 teams (69 Students). Denmark sent an Observer. The 2 integrated experiments; CSI Brussels and Respiration, were developed by and held in Vrije Universiteit van Brussel (VUB) and the Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB). The Science Coordinators were Prof. Dr. Luc Leyns and Mrs. Roosje Van Den Driessche and the Scientific Committee chairman was Prof. Dr. Louis De Vos. The Director was Mr. Victor Rasquin.
3rd EUSO (2005)
The 3rd EUSO was held in Galway, Ireland on the 14th–21st May 2005. Ten countries were represented by a total of 18 teams (54 Students). The United Kingdom sent an Observer. The 1st integrated experiments, Water Quality, was developed by and held in NUI Galway under the supervision of Dr. Gerry Morgan. The 2nd, Salinity & Mussel Physiology was developed by and held in GMIT under the supervision of Dr. Des Foley. The Scientific Committee was chaired by Dr. Paraic James (DCU). The joint Directors were Dr. Michael A. Cotter & Mr. Bernard Kirk.
2nd EUSO (2004)
The 2nd EUSO was held in Groningen, the Netherlands on the 2nd–8th May 2004. The 7 countries that participated in the 1st EUSO in Dublin were represented by 19 teams (57 Students). Observers from the 8 countries that joined the EU in 2004; Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Latvia, Malta, Poland and Slovakia, also attended. The two integrated experiments, Hexakinase Assay & Luminescence & Plastic, were developed in Groningen University by the Scientific Committee chaired by Prof. Dr. Kees Hummelen. The Organising Committee was chaired by Rector Prof. Dr. Frans Swarts. The Director was Drs. Hans Jordens
1st EUSO (2003)
The 1st EUSO was held in Dublin, Ireland on 6th–13th April 2003. Seven countries: Belgium, Germany, Ireland, Netherlands, United Kingdom, Spain, and Sweden, represented by 14 teams (42 students) attended. Switzerland sent an observer. The opening and closing ceremonies took place in the Mansion House, Dublin and were attended by Minister Noel Treacy TD (Patron) and the Dublin Lord Mayor, Councillor Dermot Lacey.
The Scientific Committee based in Dublin City University, Prof. Richard O Kennedy, Dr. Paraic James and Dr. Paul van Kampen developed and supervised the two integrated science experiments, Photosynthesis & Properties of Proteins. The Director was Dr. Michael A. Cotter.