Julia Ecker is responsible for public relations at the Department of Chemistry and Applied Biosciences (D-CHAB) of ETH Zurich and works closely with the IChO team. Here she tells us how she came to the Olympics and why the IChO is not only formative for the participants but also shapes the people behind the scenes.
Sometimes what happens unexpectedly is much better than what was planned. I never thought I would be involved in the International Chemistry Olympiad, or work at ETH Zurich. I actually come from a different corner. Geographically I come from South Tyrol (Italy), educationally, I studied biology with great enthusiasm, and in parallel, German and media studies. Why on earth this combo, you may ask? (and you would be in good company!). The simple truth is that I was too curious to specialize in only one field. I realized that I found communicating knowledge via stories even cooler than creating knowledge in the lab and decided for journalism after graduation.
At the end of 2019, the opportunity arose to come to ETH. The first wave of corona hit us before I could enjoy my first fondue. During this turbulent time, my supervisor told me about the planned Chemistry Olympiad in Switzerland. I nodded politely, mask on face, disinfectant in a tube on my backpack, and could hardly imagine such a big event while the pandemic was raging, keeping us a baby elephant-length away from each other. Besides, 2023 was far away, and I was still busy getting used to my new job. Together with my supervisor Oliver Renn, I am responsible for public relations at D-CHAB. We are the link in communication between D-CHAB, ETH, and the public. In concrete terms, I do all the journalistic work related to the department, but I also organize events, develop new offers on-site or online to bring chemistry closer to the public, and curate the chemical and pharmacognostic collection.
It didn't take long, and I became more and more involved in the International Chemistry Olympiad - be it through projects, providing material for the Catalyzer, or collaboration on the Discover ETH program. In doing so, I encountered much support and followed with excitement how the event took more and more shape through the teamwork of so many dedicated people. It is amazing how much expertise is gathered here. There is no doubt that the Olympiad is going to be a great experience for the participants. They will make new friends, enjoy their time here while competing in a peaceful yet challenging atmosphere, and grow from that – for some, certainly a first step towards a promising career as a young chemist.
But also those who organize the IChO behind the scenes benefit personally from the event, and this is true for me as well. The Olympiad brings people together through the common focus on chemistry, inspiring people to explore new possibilities and to find solutions – which is actually the IChO motto of 2023. For me, the Chemistry Olympiad embodies, perhaps more than her bigger, sporty siblings, the true spirit of the Olympics, where talents from across the globe come together in harmony to compete fairly and shape their futures.I am happy to be involved and it’s great to see everyone coming together here in Zurich!