Science - All fired up

3rd February 2012 at 00:00
Challenge your students to approach science in a new way

The Cambridge Chemistry Challenge, a monthly online competition launched in January last year, is designed to push boundaries and stretch students' knowledge. They can use the internet, but only to find scientific data, not easy answers. At the end of the online competition in June, a written exam will be set for Year 12 students across the UK.

How does it work?

Five questions are issued at the start of every month, with an increasing level of difficulty, and participants have to solve each one before they can progress to the next. Anyone who correctly solves all five questions appears on the honours board.

What inspired you to develop this competition?

We wanted to give students and teachers a new and fun approach to chemistry and science problem-solving that would prepare students for undergraduate study. At school students are taught the facts, but here they have to be creative, apply knowledge of other subjects and think in an altogether different way. The more we can help to close the gap between the study of science at school and undergraduate level, the better.

Prior to developing the Cambridge Chemistry Challenge, I worked closely with Cambridge International Examinations to develop Cambridge Pre-U chemistry - a post-16 qualification designed specifically with this in mind.

The Chemistry Challenge is a great opportunity to identify our brilliant scientists of the future. We have been impressed by the high level of ability we have seen. In many cases, students achieve higher marks than their teachers.

Why has it had such an impact?

The competition - open to students globally - has struck a chord with young chemists. In the UK alone, 3,000 students across 250 schools took on the Chemistry Challenge in its first year. I think that the questions we set have engaged students and teachers and got them talking about the problems inside the classroom and out. There is a real sense of competition and camaraderie among these young chemists.

Dr Peter Wothers is a chemist at the University of Cambridge and director of studies at St Catharine's College

What else?

To get involved with the Cambridge Chemistry Challenge, or to find out more, visit

For fun science challenges to move students away from facts and equations and towards applying science to real-life situations, try geminiwhizz's "Bright Idea Challenges" and "Crazy Scientist Challenges".

For a creative chemistry classroom, check out Rachel Ann's "Choc Cycle" or mad_scientist's "King Kong's Hand" experiment.

In the forums

Science teachers are struggling with the controlled assessment requirements for GCSE.

Find all links and resources at

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