KöMaL, the living history of Hungarian Natural Science

130 years of history, Nobel Prize winners among its participants and explicit focus on talent development… what’s one thing common in all of these? The answer is KöMaL (short for 'Mathematical and Physical Journal for Secondary Schools' in Hungarian), a Math and Physics Journal which is way more than what first meets the eye. 

As the association has been a flagship partner in Hiflylabs’ sponsoring activity since 2017 we sat down with its representative, Rita Kós, to talk about the journal’s past, present and future.


What are all the activities that KöMaL encompasses?


Rita Kós: As the name suggests, KöMaL is primarily a professional journal for high school students and teachers, dealing with everything Math-, Physics- and Informatics-related.  It’s published monthly from September to May, and features reports, publications, announcements, Mathematical problems, and their solutions. 

To add more, KöMaL is an internationally-recognized platform for national problem-solving competitions that run for 9 months with a submission system. Currently, KöMaL offers 8 different sets of problems every month from 3 subjects, allowing competition by grade level or age group.


What’s the secret behind KöMaL's unwavering popularity?


Rita Kós: All STEM subjects require extensive practice, but  KöMaL also allows for creative thinking that extends beyond individual projects. It has always been a challenging task to motivate teenagers for persistent work; they would rather play football instead back in the day too. Fortunately, now, we can showcase the achievements of those great mathematicians, physicists, and successful individuals who were practicing with KöMaL during their high school years. Just to mention a few: Tódor Kármán, Pál Erdős, Pál Turán, and László Lovász, or our Nobel laureates: János Harsányi and Ferenc Krausz. 


Perhaps its popularity lies in its tradition too: if KöMaL meant a lot to someone in their youth, they would pass on this knowledge and fondness to their children, grandchildren, and students as an adult. 


In summary, KöMaL is truly unique, and though it may not have an official title, it can be considered a part of Hungarian heritage.


What’s the origin story of KöMaL? 


Rita Kós: KöMaL was established in 1894 by Dániel Arany, a high school teacher, who wanted to provide a comprehensive collection of exercises for both teachers and students.  In an effort to popularize talent development, he capitalized on the experiences of the - at the time already well-known - Eötvös Mathematics competition. He set his sight on making KöMaL a national, asynchronous competition, during which students could continuously send in their solutions.

To obtain nationwide distribution, he utilized printing presses and the national postal service. Ultimately, his goal was to make the tasks accessible to everyone. For extra motivation, the participants’ solutions were published in the journal. In addition, he used KöMaL to spread awareness of the latest scientific news.


Every fall, you host the KöMaL Ankét, where Hiflylabs is also among the presenters. What’s the significance of this event?


Rita Kós: I would like to say that it’s all about the great lectures given by renowned and beloved teachers, researchers, and experts. Since the lectures are open to everyone, I believe they are also about building relationships. It's a special occasion for classmates and competitors to spend time together.

Moreover, our Awards Gala also takes place during the Ankét, where we celebrate and reward the winners of last year's competitions.


How has the Digital Revolution affected the journal?


Rita Kós: During the 2000s, online forums were quite popular, and on our website, students, teachers, and enthusiasts frequently discussed the latest scientific news. In hindsight, KöMaL was ahead of its time in developing and using its own Learning Management System (LMS). Simultaneously, our subscription system and digital archive were established, along with our digital portrait gallery. Surprisingly, the end of sending in handwritten solutions was only brought upon by the lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic.


What does the future hold for KöMaL?


Rita Kós: We are trying to reach as many talented students as possible. Our mission is to clear the misconception that this is only for the "elite," or those who are interested in becoming research scientists. Even though there are plenty of problem sets and science competitions nowadays, KöMaL preserves its significance. It offers the opportunity for continuous and persistent "work" and practice.


Are there any fresh updates on the horizon? How does the journal keep up with the expectations of today’s youth?


Rita Kós: There have been some changes in the service portfolio to KöMaL since September 2023. A new update regarding our regular section that provides solutions to advanced-level Maths final exam tasks is that now you can also submit your answers electronically. Furthermore, we've introduced a new section, called "Puzzles and Riddles", which provides fun challenges to spice up Math practice for teachers and students alike.  


KöMaL continues to play a prominent role in nurturing Hungarian Mathematics and Science excellence. It is one of the world's longest-running talent education journals, aiding teachers and students since 1894.

At Hiflylabs, we recognize that fostering young talent is a pivotal ingredient to our success. Therefore, it is our mission and responsibility to support and give back to devoted talent development initiatives, such as KöMaL.

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