Andy Tran, right, and Joshua Bowman, left, prepare to answer the question on the screen as part of the
Joshua Bowman, left, and Andy Tran prepare to answer an onscreen question as part of the "You Be the Chemist" competition.
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You Be the Chemist: SOD hosts middle school chemistry competition

Published on Monday, March 25, 2019

By: Kate Royals

Seven students from Northwest Rankin Middle School will head to Meridian in April for a chance to travel to Washington, D.C. to compete in a national chemistry competition.

The 8th graders attended the local You Be the Chemist competition at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, the first to be held in Jackson.

The event on Thursday was organized by Yuanyuan Duan, assistant professor in the School of Dentistry’s Biomedical Materials Science department, and judged by Jason Griggs, chair of the same department. Doctoral candidate Jared Cobb and Yongfeng Zhao, assistant professor of chemistry at Jackson State University, also judged the competition.

From left to right, front row, Northwest Rankin Middle School science teacher Mautoyia Cooper, You Be the Chemist participants Apple Guillory, Andy Tran, Andy Smith, Joshua Bowman, Cole Butler, Carson May and Annie Nam.   Back row, from left to right, Dr. Yuanyuan Duan, Dr. Jason Griggs, Jacob Cobb and Dr. Yongfeng Zhao.
You Be the Chemist hosts and participants include, front row from left, Mautoyia Cooper, Northwest Rankin Middle School science teacher; Apple Guillory, participant; Andy Tran, participant; Andy Smith, participant; Joshua Bowman, participant; Cole Butler, participant; Carson May, participant; and Annie Nam, participant, and back row from left, Dr. Yuanyuan Duan, Dr. Jason Griggs, Jacob Cobb and Dr. Yongfeng Zhao.

The seven students, all of whom are members of their school’s science bowl team, answered three rounds of 10 questions each on subjects ranging from the periodic table of elements to sucrose to viscosity and solubility.

Joshua Bowman was named the champion of the day, answering the most number of questions correctly. Bowman agreed with his classmates that some of the questions were easy, while others posed more of a challenge.

He received a medal, certificate and a $50 American Express gift card as his prize – and, of course, the opportunity to win a chance to attend the national competition.

Dr. Yuanyuan Duan, associate professor in the Biomedical Materials Science department, with Joshua Bowman, Jackson's You Be the Chemist champion and 8th grader at Northwest Rankin Middle School.
Duan, associate professor of dentistry in the Department of Biomedical Materials Science, congratulates Bowman for becoming Jackson's You Be the Chemist champion.

Even though Bowman is more interested in the natural sciences than chemistry, he’s excited to be heading to Meridian for a chance to win a trip to the national You Be the Chemist competition, hosted by the Chemical Education Foundation.

Duan and Griggs began working with Angie Carraway, instructor of chemistry at Meridian Community College, last year. After receiving an educational grant from Entergy Mississippi, Duan moved forward with planning the Jackson event.

Duan and Griggs reached out to local schools to encourage science teachers to get their students involved in the competition. Although only one school participated this year, Duan’s goal is to host the event every year and get more schools and students involved.

“It’s a great addition to local STEM education,” Duan said of the competition.

In order to qualify to compete, interested students at local schools take a qualifying multiple-choice test provided by the Chemical Education Foundation, which aims to inspire young students to develop an interest in a career in science, technology, engineering and mathematics or STEM. Those who score high enough to qualify are provided materials to study in preparation for the competition.

Carraway, who has organized the competition in Meridian for three years, is excited the competition is growing and hopes it grows to be “huge.”

“Our state has such a brain drain, and people need to be aware of STEM opportunities,” said Carraway. “Our young people need to be encouraged with challenging activities.”

Jason Griggs, chair of the Department of Biomedical Materials Science, reads the question and possible answers aloud to students as Dr. Yuanyuan Duan, assistant professor of Biomedical Materials Science, looks on.
Griggs, chair of the Department of Biomedical Materials Science, reads a question and its possible answers to students while Duan observes.

Winners from the Jackson competition (which this year will include all seven participating students) will compete with the winners from the Meridian competition in Meridian on April 12. The champion from that competition will head to Washington, D.C. for the national challenge on June 17.

Mautoyia Cooper, a science teacher at Northwest Rankin Middle School and the science bowl sponsor, said she jumps at every opportunity to get her students engaged.

“I suggest that every teacher who is a Mississippi science teacher should really make sure their students are a part of this,” Cooper said.

She said not only does she want her students to one day pursue science professions, but she also considers the You Be the Chemist and similar events great opportunities to prepare her middle schools for the academies at Northwest Rankin High School, which include a health sciences academy and an engineering academy.

“They last four years and are very rigorous,” and Cooper is always looking for ways to better prepare her students to join.

Crystal Kirby, the mother of participant Andy Smith, said she is thankful for competitions like this.

“They offer academically gifted students the ability to test themselves against other students on the same level,” she said, noting her son has always loved science since he was young.

“This is something that could definitely grow and has a good

future for this type of student,” she said.