'You Be The Chemist' Comes to Northwestern

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Winners of the 2013 Des Plaines “You Be The Chemist” Challenge. (Photo courtesy of CEF)

On April 27 at Northwestern University’s Norris Student Center, 36 middle school students from across the state will face off in the Illinois State "You Be The Chemist" Challenge. Answering questions about chemistry concepts, important discoveries and chemical safety awareness, the students will battle it out, hoping to earn a spot at the 9th annual National Challenge, which will be held in Philadelphia in June.

The "You Be The Chemist" Challenge is a way to spark interest in science at an early age, said Douglas Nafis, who helped launch the program nearly a decade ago.

“A lot of the studies we had seen at that time indicated that if students haven’t developed an interest in science by middle school they probably never will,” said Nafis, who is a member of the Educational Outreach Committee of the Chemical Industry Council of Illinois.

Winners of the 2013 Des Plaines “You Be The Chemist” Challenge. (Photo courtesy of CEF)Winners of the 2013 Des Plaines “You Be The Chemist” Challenge. (Photo courtesy of CEF)

The program was developed by the Chemical Educational Foundation (CEF), and originally consisted of resource materials for use in elementary schools to help teachers easily implement science-based projects. The materials went from hard copy to online, where there are now more than 1,000 pages available for free on the CEF website. The "You Be The Chemist" competition expands upon the initial success of the program, and aims to partner members of the chemical industry with schools in the communities in which they operate.

“The idea was to grow something that would resemble the national spelling bee, national geographic bee (these national competitions) to encourage kids to get involved in science,” said Nafis, who also works for sponsor company Honeywell's UOP. “Since our members are mostly chemists and chemical organizations, we chose chemistry as the main focus.”

But "You Be The Chemist" is really about generating interest in all science fields, and encouraging students to pursue careers in science, Nafis said. “We’re trying to create future scientists that can give back to the industry because there’s a shortage of good scientists and engineers.”

Science in Society invites you take the "You Be The Chemist" Challenge quiz. Are you smarter than a middle schooler?

1. Which of the following is a colloid?

a. Dry ice
b. Sugar
c. Vinegar
d. Mayonnaise

2. What piece of laboratory equipment is shown in the image to the right? 

a. A graduated flask
b. A Florence flask
c. A Bunsen flask
d. A volumetric flask

3. Which scientist believed that the gas given off by burning charcoal was the same as that produced by fermenting must (grape juice)? 

a. John Dalton
b. J. J. Thomson
c. Joseph Priestley
d. Jan Baptista Van Helmont 

4. If an ion has a total charge of +2, what may be its subatomic particle makeup? 

a. 5 protons, 5 neutrons, 3 electrons
b. 3 protons, 3 neutrons, 5 electrons
c. 5 protons, 3 neutrons, 5 electrons
d. 3 protons, 5 neutrons, 3 electrons 

5. What is the molarity of a 5-liter hydrochloric acid solution containing 4 moles of HCl? 

a. 0.20 M
b. 0.44 M
c. 0.80 M
d. 1.25 M

Answers: 1. d, 2. b, 3. d, 4. a, 5. c 

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