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Essay Submission Deadline: April 10, 2016

General Guidelines for Sources and Evaluation Criteria

The topics and topic-specific guidelines listed below will give contestants ideas about the type of information to search for and include in their essay. This general introduction gives insight into what evaluators look for, and general sources of information useful for all topics.

In evaluating the essays, we look for

  • clear, concise, grammatically correct writing that condenses the important points of the topic into the 500 - 600 words allowed
  • accurate chemical explanations, with some chemical insight, without propaganda or political judgements
  • reputable sources used

Depending on the topic, contestants may find that science newsmagazines like Chemical and Engineering News or Scientific American or topic-specific websites (eg. Nobel, NASA), will present a good overview of the subject for a general understanding. Basic textbooks may also serve this purpose. However, students will do well to consult more advanced academic references such as reputable research journals to ensure that their information has scientific merit as currently understood by reputable scientists working in the field.

  1. Spent Nuclear Fuel - Resource or Waste?

    This topic is concerned with the fate of spent nuclear fuel. Various different strategies for the treatment and use of spent nuclear fuel are available. The method of treatment and eventual fate has very different implications for potential impact on global welfare. Pick a method of treatment and explain the impact of the material(s) on the environment.

    The essay might

    1. Give a brief overview of the various methods available for dealing with spent nuclear fuel
    2. Describe the process you think is most reasonable to use, with respect to the chemistry involved, and physical and chemical properties of the final products.
    3. Describe how much of existing spent fuel is handled the way you advocate, i.e. which countries are doing it your way
    4. Describe the benefits of this way of handling spent nuclear waste to the community; the country; the world.
  2. The role of proteins in causing cancer

    This topic deals with the role of various proteins in regulating cell processes, and how they might be manipulated to control or combat disease. For this essay, students should select and concentrate on how a particular protein regulates cellular processes and what can happen if this protein does not function properly.

    The essay might

    1. Briefly describe the symptoms of the disease and how the disease is the result of a protein not regulating cellular processes as it should.
    2. Describe experiments carried out to understand the chemical basis of this relationship, or the effectiveness of interfering with this relationship, in an effort to understand the pathway of the disease and possibly discover a treatment.
    3. Describe monitoring systems used to diagnose the disease or measure effectiveness of treatment.
    4. Describe the benefits of this type of treatment to the community; and these benefits may be extended toward global health.
  3. The impact of catalysis on the production of pharmaceuticals

    This topic is concerned with chemical synthesis as applied to the production of medicines, looking specifically at the impact of catalysis on the chemical process.

    The essay might

    1. Deal with one specific pharmaceutical
    2. Describe this compound with respect to general structure and bonding, and physical and chemical properties
    3. Describe experiments carried out to synthesize this compound and understand its structure and reactivity
    4. Describe how catalysis affected the production or availability of this compound
    5. Describe the benefits of this pharmaceutical to the community; the country; the world.
  4. The Contributions of a Canadian Chemist To Feeding the World

    This topic is directly relevant to the grade 11/12 science curriculum, and includes historical information as well as leading edge scientific work. It might contain brief biographical information on the individual(s) profiled, to the extent that such information sheds light on the scientific motivation of the individual(s). However, the main focus of the essay should be on the scientific contribution the individual has made, and how it has advanced the field in which the individual works. To identify potential subjects, students might search the web sites of major Canadian universities, research institutes, research hospitals, and chemical companies, in addition to the information sources listed in the introduction above.

    The essay might

    1. Describe the background of the researcher(s) involved in the breakthrough, to the extent that it sheds light on his/her/their scientific motivation
    2. Describe model(s) used in or developed for the research
    3. Describe how the scientific contribution made by this individual has changed (is changing) the direction of scientific understanding and/or technology in the field
    4. Describe the benefits of this discovery to the community; the country; the world.


Format, Deadlines, Eligibility, Evaluations and Awards

The format of your submission should be a Microsoft Word document, double spaced, on 8.5" by 11" paper with 1" margins, using 12 point font, and APA or any comparable style of referencing. Clearly identify each page with the essay title, page # of total # of pages and author's name. At the end of the essay please specify the word count, excluding references. On the cover sheet specify the student's name, e-mail address, school, grade at time of submission, teacher's name and contact information. Make the submission electronically. N.B. Contestants should be aware that submissions may be tested for originality.

We have chosen timely and progressive topics that can be connected to the Ontario high school curriculum, in the hope that high school teachers will embrace this contest and incorporate it into their regular teaching. In this event, a large number of entries would be generated, and teachers would be of great assistance in the preliminary round of evaluations by submitting their three-to-five best essays (per class) to the Chemistry Department by April 10, 2016. Submit essays electronically to essaycontest@chem.utoronto.ca

The essays will be evaluated by a team of Chemistry Department personnel composed of professors and graduate students. They will look for:

  • a witty, original title that is informative as well as engaging
  • clear, concise, grammatically correct writing that condenses the important points of the topic into the 500 - 600 words allowed
  • accurate chemical explanations, with some chemical insight, without propaganda or political judgements
  • reputable sources used

A maximum of 18 STUDENT WINNERS will be chosen by a Departmental panel of chemists. Student authors of winning essays AND THEIR CHEMISTRY MENTORS will be recognized in the following ways:

The CHEMISTRY SCHOLAR AWARD consisting of
  • a certificate, prize money (ranging in value from $25 to $100)
  • recognition during the Ask-A-Laureate event, where the award will be presented
  • a celebration luncheon with a prominent chemist or Nobel Laureate

The award will be given in recognition of best essays written by high school age students.
Eligibility - Although the topics are geared to the grades 11 and 12 Ontario curricula, any student of high school age or younger who has not taken courses at the higher education level, is eligible.

CHEMISTRY MENTOR AWARD, consisting of a certificate, recognition during the Ask-A-Laureate event where the award will be presented and a celebration luncheon. This award will be given in recognition of Chemistry teachers who have mentored student winners.

LUNCH WITH A LAUREATE will be held on Friday, May 6, 2016 on the St. George campus of the University of Toronto, where award winners will have the opportunity to engage in conversation with the speakers over lunch.

>> Essay Contest Entry Form


See the previous year 2015 essay topics