Essay Contest

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. Recycling Nuclear Fuel: a long-term solution to climate change


This topic is concerned with the fate of spent nuclear fuel. Various different strategies for the treatment and use of spent nuclear fuel are available. The method of treatment and eventual fate has very different implications for potential impact on global welfare. Pick a method of treatment and explain the impact of the material(s) on the environment.

The essay might

  • Give a brief overview of the various methods available for dealing with spent nuclear fuel
  • Describe the process you think is most reasonable to use, with respect to the chemistry involved, and the physical and chemical properties of the final products.
  • Describe how much of existing spent fuel is handled the way you advocate, i.e. which countries and/or jurisdictions in Canada are doing it your way
  • Describe the benefits of this way of handling spent nuclear fuel to the community; the country; the world.


II. What can metals do in modern chemistry?


This broad topic is concerned with the versatility of metals in modern chemistry. Metals have been found at the active sites of various enzymes, in biological electron transporters, manmade catalysts for synthesis, optoelectronic devices, and pharmaceuticals. 

The essay might:

  • Deal with the role of a class of metal compounds in modern chemistry
  • Describe their structures, physical and chemical properties
  • Describe how this class of compounds were first discovered and fine-tuned over time
  • Describe how this class of compounds function
  • Describe the significance and benefit of this class of compounds to society


III. Intrinsically Disordered Proteins: What, Why and How We Study Them


Intrinsically disordered proteins (IDPs) are abundant in all kingdoms of life and fulfill many critical biological functions. IDPs have been found, for instance, to regulate the cell cycle, transcription and translation, act as “hubs” in interaction networks important in cell signaling, and maintain tight control over the locations of other proteins in the cell. IDPs also play roles, which are yet to be fully understood, in various diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, ALS, cancer, and AIDS. 

The essay might 

  • Describe the role of disordered protein important in disease
  • Describe how we study the structure of proteins (both folded and disordered proteins)
  • Describe how we study the dynamics of proteins through computer simulation
  • Describe progress in studying protein folding through computer simulation
  • Discuss the contributions of Canadian scientists studying disordered proteins
  • Describe the potential benefits to human health of a discovery in how the amino acid sequence of proteins dictates their structure and function

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 19, 2019. 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 with Chemistry Faculty. 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 10, 2019 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.