Essay Contest

Essay Submission Deadline: Friday April 16, 2021


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. Identify the pollutants that affect you


This topic is concerned with how pollutants cause adverse health effects.  We are living in an environment with thousands of pollutants, some of which may lead to adverse health effects. Two fundamental questions are largely unresolved: What classes of pollutants cause adverse health effects? and How do pollutants cause adverse health effects?

The essay might:

  • Introduce several representative classes of pollutants
  • Reference several case studies that pollutants caused issues to wildlife or humans
  • Indicate the challenges to detecting pollutants and investigating their adverse effects
  • Describe the benefits and challenges to mitigating environmental pollution
  • Discuss the policy in Canada to regulate representative pollutants


II. The Discovery of “frustrated Lewis pairs (FLPs)”: A Revolution in Chemical Dogma


This topic is concerned with the discovery of “frustrated Lewis pairs (FLPs) and its impact on the way chemists think about greening the process of chemical synthesis. This finding contradicted chemical dogma held for 100 years as FLPs mediate reactions that classically require the use of precious metal-based catalysts. This discovery has significant impact in several areas including organic synthesis, electronic materials, enzymatic reactions, optoelectronic materials and pharmaceuticals.

The essay might:

  • Deal with the role of catalysts in modern chemistry
  • Describe the issues with the use of metal-based catalysts from a “green” perspective
  • Describe how FLPs were first discovered and how this changed thinking in chemistry
  • Describe how FLP catalysts function
  • Describe the significance and potential benefit of FLPs to society


III. Chemists whose work has strongly influenced natural product synthesis


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, with the focus on Natural Product Synthesis.  For your essay, choose from among the following important organic chemists: 

  • Elias J. Corey
  • Albert Szent-Gyorgyi
  • Robert B Woodward 

The essay might:

  • Define Natural Products, and the aspect of natural product chemistry the chemist worked at (isolation, identification or synthesis)
  • Give a brief overview of how your chosen chemist has contributed to the understanding of natural products chemistry
  • Identify the natural product your chosen chemist worked with, give a brief history of the attempts to isolate or identify or synthesize this natural product, and describe what made the undertaking difficult
  • Only talk about biographical details that shed light on the scientist’s motivations and/or working conditions
  • Describe how the advances made in the field of the selected natural product has changed or is changing the direction of scientific understanding and/or technology in an applied field such as medicine and/or pharmacy

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 16, 2021. Attach a completed and signed Fileessay contest entry form.docx and submit essays electronically to 

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 panel of scientists. STUDENT AUTHORS of winning essays AND THEIR CHEMISTRY MENTORS will be recognized in the following ways: 


  • 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 one of the speakers

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 7, 2021 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.