Irish Secondary School Students Enjoy Major Success at 53rd International Chemistry Olympiad

Team Ireland has achieved its best success to date in the International Chemistry Olympiad, which was held from July 24 to August 2, 2021. All four competing students received awards, which meant the Irish challenge surpassed all previous achievements in the competition (Wednesday, 6 October 2021).

Oisín Ó Feinneadha, St Peter’s College Secondary School, Wexford, and Tong Wu, Clongowes Wood College, Clane, Co Kildare, were awarded silver medals, placing them in the top 10-30% of chemistry students internationally on the world stage.

Oscar Despard, Sandford Park School, Ranelagh, Dublin, also received a bronze medal and Aoife Morris, St Aloysius’ College, Carrigtwohill, Co Cork, completed the extraordinary success of Team Ireland by receiving an Honourable Mention award.

The International Chemistry Olympiad (IChO) is an annual competition for the world’s most talented chemistry students at secondary school level. Due to ongoing COVID-19 restrictions, the competition was held remotely this year, rather than in-situ in Japan, with nations around the world represented by individual teams made up of four students who were tested on their chemistry knowledge.

The 53rd International Chemistry Olympiad involved a highly challenging five-hour theoretical examination paper run remotely consisting of nine problems, involving very complex chemistry topics. The competition was one of the largest to take place since its inauguration with 312 student participants from 85 countries competing.

Ireland has successfully participated in the competition since 1997 with a total of 20 bronze medals, four honourable mentions and two silver medals awarded in 1999 and 2006. This year however was the first year that all four members of Team Ireland achieved awards and the first year that Ireland came away with two silver medals in the competition, doubling their overall tally in the competition from two to four.

The journey for the four students to IChO2021 Japan commenced in the Spring of 2021 where over 210 chemistry students from across the island of Ireland participated in Round 1 of the Chemistry Olympiad Ireland competition. This was reduced down to approximately 50 who competed for national metals and highly commended awards. From this group, Team Ireland was chosen after extensive training during the Easter Holidays and further assessment.

The four members of Team Ireland received extensive training for IChO2021 from an expert team of academics from across five Irish higher education institutions – Dr Brian Murphy, Technological University of the Shannon: Midlands Midwest; Dr Carl Poree, Dr John O’Donoghue and Professor Mike Lyons, Trinity College Dublin; Dr Elizabeth Gilchrist and Dr Tim O’Sullivan, University College Cork; Dr Pat O’Malley, Dr Odilla Finlayson, Dr Nessan Kerrigan and Dr Hasim Ibrahim, Dublin City University; and Dr Cormac Quigley from Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology.

The Irish international delegation at IChO2021 included Dr Brian Murphy, Dr Carl Poree, Dr John O’Donoghue, Dr Elizabeth Gilchrist, who supported the four Irish students throughout the competition in July and who participated in the International Jury at IChO2021.

Representatives from the Irish delegation said:

“We are truly delighted with the performance of Team Ireland in IChO2021 Japan and so proud of these four brilliant young chemists. They represented Ireland at the very highest level on the world stage in chemistry and all of them brought home an award! Great credit is due to these remarkable students. Their success also shows the quality of the chemistry teaching that takes place in many of our schools across the island of Ireland. Their schools and chemistry teachers deserve enormous praise also for ensuring that chemistry is offered to secondary level students and for providing such excellent preparation in the chemical sciences within the school curriculum.”

Dr Brian Murphy (TUS) and Dr Carl Poree (TCD), current co-chairs of the Chemistry Olympiad Ireland Committee said:

“The Committee greatly acknowledges the continuous support received from the International Cooperation Section of the Department of Education which allows the Committee to hold an all-Ireland Chemistry Olympiad annually and which facilitates the participation of students from both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland in the International Chemistry Olympiad. Without this support from the Department of Education we would not be in a position to showcase the best of our Irish students in a core STEM subject on the international stage.”

Dr John O’Donoghue, TCD, who is the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) education coordinator in Ireland, said:

“It was an absolute pleasure to be involved in this unique multi-institutional, all-island collaboration which has yielded our best-ever result on the international stage of this competition. The success these students have achieved demonstrates the exceptional quality that exists in our education system from our secondary schools, from our teachers and from our higher education staff. Well done to the chemistry community in Ireland for coming together to help these students achieve their full potential and I have no doubt that their success will advance our international reputation in the sciences.”

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