Youths try on role of chemist

Heather Simpson, of Sumner Middle School, was disappointed Friday when she failed to answer correctly some of the questions in the final round of the “You Be the Chemist Challenge.”

The 14-year-old, who said she wants to be a marine biologist, put her knowledge of science to the test with more than 300 middle school students from 18 Tangipahoa Parish public schools during the regional competition held at Southeastern Louisiana University.

The students demonstrated their knowledge of chemistry concepts, important discoveries and chemical safety awareness at the competition, sponsored by the Southeastern Department of Chemistry and Physics with financial support from Bercen Inc., a Denham Springs-based specialty chemical manufacturer.

“It was pretty hard. I’m surprised I did well,” Heather said, after beating out hundreds of students for a place in the final round of questioning.

Despite not moving on to the state competition, Simpson said the experience was a good one.

“It was good to have the experience to be able to come here and go up against other kids in the parish,” Heather said.

Cooper Coldwell, 12, of Martha Vinyard in Ponchatoula, said the event was both “fun and entertaining,” adding that science is his favorite subject.

While Cooper also said he was disappointed that he didn’t win the regional competition, he did learn a few things, he said.

“I learned more about chemistry; more about the combination of elements,” he said.

Cooper said he will use his newfound knowledge to help pursue a career in criminal forensics.

Students in grades five through eight competed against one another in the challenge, said project coordinator David Norwood, associate professor in the Southeastern Department of Chemistry and Physics. The competition engaged students, and included an academic question and answer competition created by the Chemical Educational Foundation.

“The challenge exposes students to chemistry and how it applies to their everyday lives,” Norwood said. “It helps them gain a greater appreciation of how chemistry shapes our world.

“It’s rewarding to see the students take such a strong interest in science,” he said.

You Be the Chemist was created by the National Association of Chemical Distributors in 1989 to serve as the educational outreach segment of the chemical distribution industry.

The event partners chemical industries with area schools. The winners of the challenge at Southeastern will now advance to the State Challenge at LSU in the spring.

The winner of the state competition will compete in the National YBTC Challenge to be held in Philadelphia in June.

Participating schools include Champ Cooper, Chesbrough Elementary, O.W. Dillion Elementary, Hammond Eastside, Hammond Junior, Hammond Westside, Independence Middle, Kentwood Junior, Loranger Middle, Martha Vineyard, Natalbany Elementary, Nesom Middle, Ponchatoula Junior, Roseland Middle, Southeastern Louisiana Lab School, Spring Creek Middle and Sumner Middle.

The winners of the competition are Corey King, SLU Lab School, first place; Mallory Matthews, Loranger Middle, second place; Chris Crawford, Sumner Middle, third place; Meah Sims, Sumner Middle, fourth place; and Reed Roberts, SLU Lab School, fifth place.