Life is a huge chemistry laboratory, indeed

Beginning from July 20, a group of almost 300 students from all five continents of the world will get together here in Baku for the 47th International Chemistry Olympiad, an annual international competition for those young students with special talents and interests in chemistry. Needless to say, they will be here to win his/her own medal, preferably of gold color, from the competition. But the medal may not be the only reason for them to come all the way to Baku. They will be here to see and experience by themselves a uniquely chemical country, often known as the ‘Land of Fire’, where the modern petroleum industry began with first pipe lines installed by famous Nobel brothers more than a century ago.

Chemistry is a science to study true nature of chemical identity and transformation of molecules. Everything in the world, not to mention our bodies, is made of molecules of all kinds, natural or artificial, visible or invisible, colored or colorless, hard or soft, stable or unstable, savory or unsavory, sweet or bitter, dangerous or innocuous, etc. It is this incredible range of chemical diversity that makes the world we live ever more lively and mysterious. Without such chemical diversity, our planet would be nothing but a dark and dull desert planet just like moon and others with no human beings wondering who and where we are. It is for this reason that chemistry is often said to be the most central and basic among all fields of modern science. It is absolutely impossible to think about life and universe in scientific senses without underlying understanding on chemistry.

Chemistry is also a science of practical use at both personal and industrial levels. At personal level, our daily life is heavily dependent upon chemistry. For example, usual cooking, bathing, and cleaning are all chemical processes in their essential parts. We also need chemistry to defend ourselves from all kinds of illnesses including the fatal contagious diseases caused by subtle and seemingly insignificant creatures like Ebola and HIV viruses. But the most important application of chemistry in modern society can be found in wide variety of industries including petroleum, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and electronics. Without chemistry, virtually none of modern industries, including information and communications industries, might be in existence at all.

These are the reasons why we, chemists, like to say “Life is a huge chemistry laboratory, indeed.” That is to say, we can enjoy our lives today for the sake of chemistry. Of course, there is a dark side of chemistry, as is the case for everything we encounter in our lives. Chemistry is often said to be responsible for almost all difficulties we are experiencing these days, including such serious problems as climate changes and depletion of natural resources. While it may all be true that chemistry is indeed a main source of environmental destructions, it may also be true for sure that it must be through active and judicious application of chemistry if any kinds of probable remedy for the current problems should ever be found in the future.

The International Chemistry Olympiad is one of the serious world-wide attempts on the part of educators devoted to better education of chemistry throughout the world to bring our attention to chemistry, which is clearly going to play more important role in the future society. The IChO began its feeble but turned-out-to-be resilient history in 1968 from Prague of the former Czechoslovakia, with only 18 students participating from Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland. Ever since then, IChO has grown to an internationally renowned chemistry competition for young future chemists from nearly 80 different countries. It is noted that many of IChO participants have become successful chemists actively working in various chemistry related areas all over the world. As a matter of fact, there are many medalists of previous IChO’s who are with us now as mentors and observers for their own students.

The basic aim of IChO is in principle to promote international contacts in chemistry beyond the physical borders of countries through academic competitions. Students will be given rather heavy tasks, in theoretical and practical, to solve within 5 hours each. Of course, the independent and creative attitudes towards chemical problems are also highly emphasized in the competitions as a mean to educate young students who will play ever important roles of chemistry practitioners in the future for advancement of chemistry.

IChO is also intended to provide chances for our young students to learn the importance of maintaining cordial relations with friends with different national, ethnic, religious, and cultural backgrounds. IChO is going to be an invaluable opportunity for our participating students to have hands-on experience with different cultural and social environments and enrich their own understanding on different life-styles and foods as well. As proven in history of chemistry, close communication and understanding at personal level are absolute requirement for the real advancement of chemistry and for the peace of the world in the future.

Baku, the capital of beautiful Azerbaijan, is definitely one of the best places for us to achieve the mandates of IChO. All of us participating in the 47th IChO are most grateful for our host, Baku Branch of Lomonosov Moscow State University and people of Azerbaijan, to provide us such a wonderful facilities and opportunities to enjoy really rich and old cultural heritages of Azerbaijan in addition to the chemistry competitions.

Dr. Duckhwan Lee
Chair of Steering Committee
International Chemistry Olympiad

Professor of Chemistry and Science Communications
Sogang Unviersity, Seoul, Korea

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