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Essay Submission Deadline: April 13, 2017

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. Organic Contaminants in Humans

    This topic is concerned with how humans take up organic contaminants from the environment, particularly with food. How do these contaminants end up in our food? How do we measure and estimate human exposure to organic contaminants? We only accumulate a very small fraction of the many chemicals society is using. What characteristics does a chemical need to have to be found in humans? Not everybody is exposed to contaminants in the same way, and the variability in concentrations is high. Who within a population has the highest contaminant load in their body and why?

    The essay might

    • Describe the rationale for monitoring organic contaminants in food and in humans.
    • Choose one type of organic contaminant and describe a method suitable for detecting its presence and quantifying its concentrations in human tissue samples (e.g. blood and hair), taking into account the physical and chemical properties of the contaminant.
    • Identify the most commonly detected contaminants in humans and investigate their sources and the pathways from source to human.
    • Explore actions that either health authorities or individuals can take to reduce their exposure to organic contaminants.
  2. Fluorescence-Guided Photodynamic Therapy

    This topic deals with the role of fluorescence in visualizing cells and tissues, and how it might be used to aid in combating cancer. For this essay, students should select and concentrate on how fluorescence can be used in conjunction with the cancer treatment, photodynamic therapy.

    The essay might

    • Give a brief overview of the therapeutic properties of light, how photodynamic therapy works, and which cancers it is most effective at treating.
    • Describe the drugs used to perform photodynamic therapy. Discuss their current limitations.
    • Describe the role of fluorescence in photodynamic therapy. How will it improve photodynamic therapy?
    • Describe the benefits of this type of monitoring and/or treatment to the community; and how these benefits may be extended toward global health.
  3. Finding Sustainable Metal Catalysts

    This topic is concerned with finding or developing catalysts that are less toxic and more cost effective. In general, catalysts improve chemical processes, but now we are looking for better catalysts.

    The essay might

    • Deal with one specific metal or metal compound used for catalysis,
    • Describe this type of catalyst with respect to general structure, physical, chemical and toxicological properties
    • Describe experiments carried out to find a substitute for this catalyst that will have similar reactivity but will have preferred properties in one or more respects
    • Describe how this catalyst affects the production or availability of materials it helps synthesize
    • Describe the benefits of this catalyst to the community; the country; the world.
  4. Engineering Human Heart Tissue for Drug Screening and Therapy

    This topic is concerned with two facets of tissue engineering: The direct use of engineered tissue in therapy, and the use of engineered tissue for developing effective drugs for human use.

    The essay might

    • Describe what tissue engineering entails (choose a specific type of tissue)
    • Describe model(s) used in or developed for the research
    • Describe how the advances made in tissue engineering are changing the direction of scientific understanding and/or technology in medicine and/or pharmacy
    • Describe the benefits of the specific engineered tissue you have chosen, 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 13, 2017. 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 12, 2017 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