Students in the UK and around the world this year put their chemistry skills to the test in a new competition

Students in the UK and around the world this year put their chemistry skills to the test in a new competition supported by the University of Cambridge Department of Chemistry, The Rushton Bequest from St Catharine's College, University of Cambridge International Examinations and OCR (Oxford Cambridge and RSA Examinations).

The Cambridge Chemistry Challenge, launched in January 2011, was the brainchild of Peter Wothers, a chemist at the University of Cambridge. It is a monthly online competition which is open to anyone, any age from anywhere in the world. Five 'Google-proof' questions issued on the first of each month from January - June were set by an experienced team of teachers and university chemists. They are designed to push boundaries, stretch students' knowledge and encourage them to think about science and use the internet to find scientific data.

Here is an example to show the challenging nature of these questions...

Estimate the mass of a pile of bucky balls reaching form the earth to the moon

Source: Cambridge Chemistry Challenge

In this question, the students would have to find the average distance from the surface of the Earth to the Moon, the size of a 'bucky-ball' (the football-shaped C60 molecule) and then calculate the mass needed in the pile. The result is rather surprising.

The competition has proved popular, with teachers and students from more than 50 countries around the world entering. At the end of the online competition in June the Cambridge Chemistry Challenge team set a written exam for Year 12 students at schools in the UK. The top performing students attended a residential camp at the university's Chemistry Department and they will be presented with their 'Chemistry Challenge' awards by Cambridge MP and research scientist, Julian Huppert, at a ceremony in the Houses of Parliament on Thursday 24 November.

Peter Wothers said: 'We set this up because we wanted to give students and teachers a new and fun way of approaching chemistry. At school students are taught the facts but here they have to be creative, apply knowledge of other subjects and think outside the box - these are exactly the kind of skills which are needed for university.'

The Cambridge Chemistry Challenge will continue into 2012 due to popular demand from students and teachers. The first online challenge will be available at 00.01, Sunday 1 January 2012. If you would like to find out more visit the Cambridge Chemistry Challenge website.