50th International Chemistry Olympiad

published 2018-07-31

This year, the International Chemistry Olympiad (IChO) has celebrated its 50th anniversary. The first IChO took place in Prague, Czechoslovakia in 1968, and, although it is usually not emphasized, it pop up during the period known as Prague spring. Slovak and Czech republics were also the organizing countries of this year issue. It was my pleasure to be a part of Scientific committee, and with Tom Kubař to prepare and evaluate one of the eight theoretical exam problems. It was all about DNA, and part of our motivation stemmed from the work of Prof. Jan Svoboda, a famous Czech virologist in the picture below. It is just coincidence that his surname means "freedom".

Introductory figure to the 1st theoretical problem of the 50th International Chemistry Olympiad

Citing our text in Catalyzer - the official magazin of IChO: "RNA, retrovirus, reverse transcriptase, hydrogen bond, nucleotide. These are a few keywords that have shaped careers of many Slovak and Czech scientists. The schools of chemistry and virology in Czechoslovakia were quite strong from the 1950s onwards, despite the suboptimal conditions that the researchers had to struggle with in those days. One of the world leading virologists of that time was Professor Jan Svoboda (1934-2017) who pioneered the retrovirus hypothesis. It is commonly speculated that the social and political changes, which coincided with the first year IChO, thwarted Svoboda's chances of receiving a Nobel prize."

As a bonus, here I put a making-of video of the Svoboda's office/lab cartoon.