Parents Help to Fuel Science Chasers in IHS Chemical Week

Standing tall: The finalists (l-r) Kit Dunton, Elijah Stutzman, Inderbir Singh, Nabil Shaikh (3rd place), Jeremiah Mitchel, Christopher Pillay (winner), Ethan Li (2nd place), Doug Streat, Emily Pakulski, Andy Stewart, Raine Hasskew.

September 12, 2008 - New York, NY

By Esther D’Amico

It took about 20 minutes and 18 questions in the final round of this year’s national You Be the Chemist Challenge before Christopher Pillay, an 8th grader from Elk Grove Village, IL, emerged the winner. He says “I really didn’t know; I just guessed,” at the last question: “What happens as subshells move farther from the nucleus?” His guess from the multiple-choice list was correct—the energy level increases—and he surpassed Ethan Li, an 8th grader from Detroit, who took second place. Pillay and Li were up against 10 of their peers from as many states who bested thousands of other 12-14 year olds during the school year in regional and state-level You Be the Chemist contests. Nabil Shaikh, a 7th grader from Reading, PA, took third place in the challenge.

Pillay, who says he was more certain with most of the other questions, credited his parents for helping him prepare for the competition by poring over pages of study materials to learn about chemistry concepts and discoveries. “My parents really pushed me to do it. My mom and I had a competition to see who could memorize the periodic table first,” Pillay says. “She won.”

Parental participation in their children’s learning experience is precisely the outcome that educators hope to inspire in their efforts to boost science literacy, says Mae Jemison, a scientist and former astronaut who is now focused on improving science literacy rates among children and adults. “Science literacy helps us think our way through the day, and that’s something that everybody needs,” Jemison says. Children can influence adults “to pay more attention” to science, she adds.

The four-year-old competition is held in May at the Chemical Heritage Foundation (Philadelphia) and is designed to test students’ knowledge of chemistry. First-, second-, and third-place winners received savings bonds, and all 12 contestants received gift certificates, chemistry kits, as well as other prizes. This year’s competition drew nearly 100, including educators, industry representatives, and parents.

The Chemical Education Foundation (CEF: Arlington, VA), a nonprofit industry organization, created the challenge to promote chemistry and the chemical industry to students, teachers, and communities, CEF says. Sponsors of this year’s event included: Arch Chemicals, Brenntag North America, Thames & Kosmos (Portsmouth, RI), Expo Chemical (Houston), the National Association of Chemical Distributors (Arlington); and Turning Technologies (Youngstown, OH).

Link to IHS Chemical Week

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