CEDAR CITY – Gases were the elements of discussion during the 13th annual Chemical Olympics at Southern Utah University Friday as students from six Southern Utah high schools battled it out for first place in three categories: Individual, qualitative and quantitative. First place awards went to Cedar, Beaver and Enterprise high schools in those categories, respectively.
Focused and energetic students from Cedar, Canyon View, Success Academy, Enterprise, Beaver and Millard high schools competed in the Chemical Olympics by performing experiments and answering questions presented by SUU professors.
Experiments took place in separate rooms where students were provided with materials, a problem to solve and a lab.
“Right now they are doing a titration which can be used for a bunch of different things,” Assistant Professor of Chemistry Daniel Eves said. “In a titration you add something that you know the concentration of, to something that you want to know the concentration of, so that it can be used to verify (the amount in the first item).”
Today we have modern tools that will do this for us, but this old school method of chemistry is important to understand, Eves said, because it teaches the roots of the processes.
After the experiments, everyone gathered for an explosive chemical show presented by Professor of Chemistry Hussein Samha.
Hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, chlorine, fluorine, bromine and iodine are the seven volatile diatomic elements in the periodic table, Samha said, before demonstrating their fiery powers.
The half-hour display of chemistry’s fun side was fast moving and interactive. As Samha moved from one element to the next, surprising the teens with bursts and booms along the way, he engaged them by getting into the crowd and inviting them to parcipate.
Cell phones actually remained in place on desks untouched during most of the show – except for brief moments of photo and video shoots, and maybe a selfie or two for social media friends.
The dynamic way Samha presents information to students at the Chemical Olympics is why Millard High teacher Peter Anderson has been bringing his students to the event for nearly 10 years.
“Dr. Samha is really entertaining,” he said. “And the kids really like him and they like the show, because he does a really good job with it.”
It is important to teach with flare and style, Samha said, because science can be intimidating. Through outreach, he said, he can stimulate young minds and show them that it can also be fun. Then, encountering students later who attended a Chemical Olympics and are excelling and pursuing degrees at SUU in a science field is particularly rewarding.
“One time I was judging a Sterling Scholars Award portfolio,” Samha said. “Through the portfolios I went through, there was one that was signed by me, by my hand; and I look and I see that it was a Chemical Olympics general partition certificate … that was really awesome.”
The students who tag along with Anderson to compete each year train hard for their events by coming in before school or during their lunch times to practice experiments like titration, he said. Many of them are not necessarily the students in his classes who have excelled in science, but rather typical high school students who have a real enjoyment of the subject.
“I mostly want them to realize that science is interesting and science is fun,” Anderson said.
Winners of the 13th Annual Chemistry Olympics
- Individual: 1. Cedar High School, 2. Success Academy, 3. Canyon View High School
- Qualitative: 1. Beaver High School, 2. Millard High School, 3. Enterprise High School
- Quantitative: 1. Enterprise High School, 2. Beaver High School, 3. Canyon View High School
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