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Essay Submission Deadline: April 20, 2018


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 essays. 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 judgments
  • 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, NIH, PubMed), will present a good overview of the subject for a general understanding. Basic textbooks may also serve this purpose. These types of sources present the information at a level accessible to the general public, yet ensure that the information has scientific merit as currently understood by reputable scientists working in the field.

I. Interaction of nanomaterials with living systems


This topic is concerned with interactions between nanoscale synthetic materials and biological systems ranging in size from biomolecules (like lipids, proteins, DNA,) to cellular receptors and organisms as large as human beings. What types of interactions are possible? What characteristics does a nanomaterial need to have to interact with a biological system? How do we study these interactions? How do we make these materials? What implications do these interactions have for human health?

The essay might

  • Define nanomaterials in general and describe some types of possible interactions
  • Choose one type of interaction and describe a method suitable for detecting its presence
  • Identify the type of nanomaterial involved, and describe the attributes of the material that enable it to interact
  • Describe experiments for making the nanomaterial and/or testing its effectiveness.
  • Explore the implications of this interaction for human health.

II. Lasers in Chemistry


This topic is intended to launch explorations into the past, present, and future contributions of laser spectroscopy to chemistry.

The essay might:

  • Describe a spectroscopic technique, including how it originated, and a major contribution it has made/is making/promises to make to our understanding of chemical processes.
  • Introduce a major question in chemistry where spectroscopy played a key role in finding an answer. Or, discuss an unresolved problem where spectroscopists are presently working to make a contribution.
  • Explore a technology that uses light to allow the observation of dynamics on chemically-relevant timescales (micro-, nano-, pico-, femto-, even atto-seconds) Discuss the challenge posed by a chemical question, and then how scientists developed the ability to make a measurement to answer it.  (e.g. What technologies were developed to push, or circumvent these limits on how fast electronic detectors could be? What are the fundamental limits to our ability to observe rapid events? What is meant by 'ultrafast' spectroscopy? What can we learn about molecules, and molecular processes by revealing rapid dynamics?)
  • Explain a present-day commercial application of lasers for materials processing, commenting on the economic significance/opportunities, and technological challenges still to be addressed.
  • Laser spectroscopy plays an enormous role in modern analytical chemistry: describe a light-based analysis that is poised to have a major societal impact.

III. The role of transition metals in nature and the laboratory


This topic is concerned with finding or developing uses for metals to mediate reactions in an environmentally responsible way. Metal mediators of reactions that are less toxic and more cost effective are the target. 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.

IV. A Canadian Scientist’s Contribution to Nanomaterials


This topic can be adapted the Ontario grade 12 Curriculum expectations related to career exploration, stated as follows: ... describe the contributions of scientists, including Canadians, to a scientific field. However, the focus is on the chemistry of nanomaterials

The essay might

  • Identify a Canadian working with the development of a type of nanomaterial, and briefly explain how he/she is involved in the field
  • Define what nanomaterials are, but focus on the one your scientist is involved with
  • Give a brief history of the development of this specific nanomaterial, and describe its attributes, how it is made and/or used
  • Discuss the contribution of a Canadian scientist or scientific team to the development or applied use of the selected nanomaterial
  • Describe how the advances made in the field of the selected nanomaterial is changing the direction of scientific understanding and/or technology in an applied field such as medicine and/or pharmacy
  • Describe the benefits of the specific nanomaterial 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 20, 2018. 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 uses topic appropriate language and condenses the important points of the topic into the 500 - 600 words allowed
  • accurate chemical explanations, with some chemical insight, without propaganda or political judgments
  • reputable sources used and cited in-text

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 (1st prize $100; 2nd prize $50; 3rd prize $25)
  • 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 curriculum in grades 11 and 12 in Ontario, 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 11, 2018 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