Coaching for the Science Olympiad, sneak peeks into particle physics before a visit to CERN, or an entire upper-secondary school course at the University. Upper-secondary school pupils are welcome at the University of Helsinki!

Doctoral student Jennifer Ott coordinates school visits and welcomes groups of upper-secondary school pupils who come to the Department of Physics and the Helsinki Institute of Physics. The groups usually submit their requests for the visit via a form, but the coordinator must schedule the visit so that it suits both the group and the researchers.

– Most of our guests are planning a visit to CERN in Switzerland and they come to the University of Helsinki to prepare for the trip, says Ott.

But school groups are welcome to just get a change from their usual classes.

After a theory lecture, upper-secondary school pupils usually visit the Detector Laboratory and take the lift down to the Accelerator Laboratory, where researchers can tell them more about the equipment and ongoing research projects.

School groups are welcome to just get a change from their usual classes. ChemistryLab Gadolin, coordinated by the LumA Science Education Centre is a popular destination for school field trips, and the programme can be tailored to suit a variety of age groups.

Exact science took pupils by surprise

The level of the annual international Science Olympiad has risen over the years, and medallist hopefuls can no longer rely on their upper-secondary education. Prep courses with universities are part of the competition organised by the Finnish Association for Teachers of Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry and Informatics MAOL.

Santeri Pakola, who recently graduated from upper-secondary school with high marks, travelled from his northern Finnish home-town of Tornio to Helsinki to participate in the weeklong prep course for the Chemistry Olympiad at the Kumpula Campus. The campers spent their mornings studying theory, and the afternoons working hands-on at the laboratory.

Pakola, who dreams of a medical career, was delighted by the exact scientific work.

– The best things were meeting other people my age who are interested in the sciences, hearing from motivated teachers and getting to conduct experiments in a laboratory, Pakola explains.

The prep course culminated in trial examinations for entry into the Olympiad team. Pakola was successful, and will join three other upper-secondary school pupils first at the Nordic Chemistry Olympiad and then at the International Chemistry Olympiad in Thailand in late July.

Bitten by the chemistry bug at the Olympiad

University Instructor Kjell Knapas from the University of Helsinki’s Department of Chemistry first became interested in inorganic chemistry himself when he took part in the Chemistry Olympiad. Now Knapas runs the Olympiad prep courses and supports the teams on their Olympiad trips abroad.

Last autumn’s national chemistry competition had 300 participants, 20 of whom continued to the finals. The six pupils who then successfully completed the 34 take-home assignments were invited to the prep course in Kumpula.

Knapas wants to encourage schools to take part in the Science Olympiad.

– Even though only a handful of exceptionally talented pupils make it to the finals, just participating in a national competition provides the kinds of opportunities for pupils that unfortunately not all schools are equipped to provide, says Knapas.