LSU Hosts Third Annual 'You Be The Chemist' Challenge

March 11, 2024

middle school students wih gradaute student doing a demo

Westside Junior High students participating in a chemistry demonstration at the 2024 Regional 'You Be The Chemist' Challenge at LSU.

Baton Rouge, LA – Louisiana State University hosted a third annual regional 'You Be The Chemist' Challenge, with six teams from two local middle schools competing in the rigorous but fun chemistry competition. 

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the National ‘You Be The Chemist’ Challenge program, or YBCC, developed by the Chemical Educational Foundation, emphasizing its legacy of inspiring students toward careers in STEM fields. 

Assistant Professor Víctor García-López from the LSU Department of Chemistry and the Gordon A. Cain Center for STEM Literacy organized the regional competition in collaboration with the Capital Area STEM Network. Multiple chemistry students and staff volunteered for event activities. 

Middle school students participating in YBCC competition

A team from Westside Junior High working on a chemistry problem. 

During the competition, middle school students from Glasgow Middle School and Westside Junior High completed four rounds of chemistry challenges and questions, demonstrating their knowledge, passion for science, and ability to tackle complex problems with teamwork.

"YBCC ignites curiosity and excitement in students. They get to dive into real chemistry problems and work together to solve them," García-López said. "It's much more than a competition; it's about inspiring a new generation of chemists and helping them understand the impact they can make in the world through chemistry."

Parents and educators were captivated by the students' performances. Justin Hubbard, a parent and mathematics teacher from Westside Junior High, shared his excitement, "It’s very interesting to see students asked challenging chemistry questions and their facial expressions. The level of engagement was truly inspiring to witness." 

The YBCC program represents an academic event that fosters students' curiosity and collaborative spirit. The Westside Junior High science teacher representative, Alysha Guidry, stated, "This program is an amazing challenge for middle school students. It stretches their brains and opens them up to all the possibilities of science. Whether they know the correct answer or not, the ability to work together and have fun with science makes it a rewarding experience."

The event also serves as a platform for students to gauge their interest in various scientific fields, as Raj Iyer, a Glasgow Middle School parent, noted. "Programs like 'You Be The Chemist' provide significant motivation for our students in Louisiana to compete with others across the country and provides exposure to various areas of science, which helps them identify which career they are most interested in." 

students conducting one of the chemistry demonstrations

Glasgow Middle School students creating nylon string.

Following the challenge, LSU Chemistry graduate students captivated participants with chemistry demonstrations, including the "magical" purple and gold color-changing clock reaction, representing the spirit of LSU. In another demonstration, students created nylon string from a step-growth polymerization reaction.  

The live demonstrations provided an interactive element reinforcing the principles the students had studied, bridging the gap between theory and practice. The event ended with tours of research and instrumentation laboratories where students and parents gained insights into the ongoing chemistry research at LSU.  

Glasgow Middle School teams, represented by science teacher Kelly McFatter, placed first and second place, and a team from Westside Junior High, represented by science teacher Alysha Guidry, placed third.  

All participating teams are invited to make a video about an innovative company's solution to a problem based on an annual theme. Their score will come from their video and challenge performance. The best five state teams amongst state winners will head to the National Challenge in Houston, TX, in June 2024 to compete for scholarships. 

"Each year, the 'You Be The Chemist' Challenge showcases incredible talent and passion for chemistry. My hope is that we'll continue to expand this competition at LSU, reaching more schools and inspiring even more students to participate,” García-López said. 

To learn more about the 'You Be The Chemist' Challenge and how to participate, visit the Chemical Educational Foundation website