A team of Israeli students has triumphed at the 41st International Chemistry Olympiad at Cambridge University this week, winning gold and bronze medals in the week-long competition. Two of Israel's four entrants were awarded medals at the contest. Assaf Mauda, an 11th-grader from Hadera High School, won a gold medal and was ranked second overall in the entire competition. At last year's Olympiad in Budapest, Mauda won a silver medal. His team-mate Evitar Degani, 15, also from Hadera High School, was awarded a bronze medal. A total of 253 young scientists, making up 65 national teams, took part in the contest, including participants from Iran, Pakistan and Kuwait. Competitors sat through two challenging examinations, in theoretical and practical chemistry, competing against the best chemistry students from around the world. Mauda scored the highest mark in the practical exam, beating stiff competition from Chinese, Russian, Korea and Iranian participants. Organizers of the event said the close links and friendships between the competitors, fostered by the Olympiad, were evident as the students collected their awards. During the week-long competition, participants take part in a wide array of social and cultural events and programs. The medals were awarded at a grand closing ceremony in the historic King's College chapel at Cambridge University on Sunday. Waving an Israeli flag when he accepted his award, Mauda shared with The Jerusalem Post his feeling of pride and achievement. "It was an experience to meet people from all over the world. Winning a gold medal was a surprise. I didn't realize I would do so well; I didn't expect to reach such a high level," he said. "It is of great importance that we have youngsters who are talented, creative, curious and hard working, as well as academic institutes which are willing to advance such elite groups," said Prof. Asher Schmidt, from the Technion's Faculty of Chemistry and head mentor of the Israeli delegation. "The kids are highly motivated and work tremendously hard to get prepared and participate in these competitions. "Coming back with extraordinary achievements should fill each Israeli with pride. Looking a few years down the road, I can easily imagine Assaf developing into a leader in a branch of science and/or technology, training the new generation of scientists. In my opinion, education, at all levels, is the primary element on which the future of our state depends. Education should also be addressed as such nationally, and driven by a team of professionals without political affiliation," Schmidt added. The achievement of the Israeli youngsters was announced by the captain on their EL AL flight back to Israel. The Israeli team, which has competed in the Olympiad for the last four years, is selected and prepared by the Schulich Faculty of Chemistry at the Technion. Participants are chosen following a nationally run competition. Financial support is given by the Education Ministry and the Chais Family Foundation. The Chemistry Olympiad has been an annual event since 1968. Its aims are to test the most promising chemistry students while promoting cooperation and the exchange of scientific experience among students. The competition is facilitated by the ministry of education of the organizing country. Each national team consists of students and accompanying teachers. The students must be from high schools that do not have a special chemistry orientation. Next year's event will be held in Tokyo. Rachel Geizhals contributed to this report.