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Grundy students put science knowledge on display in chemist challenge

You Be The Chemist Challenge held in Seneca Wednesday

SENECA – Megha Maroney, a Minooka Junior High School eighth-grader, took top honors in the Grundy County division of the "You Be The Chemist Challenge."

The event was held Wednesday evening at Seneca Grade School – South Campus.

Maroney was all smiles after taking first place in a rather grueling question and answer competition. When asked how she felt, all she could say was, “happy.” During the months preparing for the competition, she said she concentrated hard on learning the material.

“I made sure I understood what I was reading,” she said.

Coal City Middle School also was well-represented at the competition, with both of its delegates placing in the top three. Eighth-graders Mason Mulcahy and Preston Johnson received second and third places.

Mazon-Verona-Kinsman Elementary School’s Tommy Cahill, a seventh-grader, came in fourth.

The challenge's most difficult questions involved electron orbitals, Maroney said.

Mulcahy said he felt “pretty good” about his second place win and said he had the most trouble with periodic table questions.

“I studied every day for an hour or two,” he said.

This is the 12th year the challenge has taken place. Grundy County has always been well-represented. The first year its schools participated, Maggie Leake from MVK was the National Winner. Kyle Hanson, from Saratoga Middle School in Morris, was the State Essay Winner.

You Be The Chemist Regional Coordinator Kimberly Goffinet, a chemical engineer, said recognizing students for their science abilities is important. Science careers are in high demand, she said, and even if students don’t pursue careers in science, a good background in the subject will help them achieve in other fields and better understand the world.

“The You Be The Chemist Challenge really helps motivate children and expose them to science in a way they may not be exposed to with school work,” Goffinet said.

Several Grundy area schools have a strong tradition in scoring high in the challenge, especially MVK, Minooka and Coal City. MVK science teacher Darcy Welsh teaches science in an elective class every January.

“I think our kids take a special interest in this,” Welsh said. “They seem to enjoy it. I think they like being part of the winning tradition of MVK. ... I get excited about it too. Science is life. There isn’t a part of our lives that science doesn’t touch.”

MVK’s Cahill placed fourth this year and, as a seventh-grader, will have another chance at the championship next year. Last year, he went to state as a sixth-grader, which is unusual.

“I’ve liked science since I was in preschool,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to be a scientist.”

MVK's Mark Mehochko, an eighth-grader, also did well in the competition, although he did not place in the top four. Like Cahill, Mehochko has had an interest in science ever since he could remember.

“I think it’s been fun,” he said of the challenge. “I have a binder with the study guide in it, and every single day, I grab it and study from it.”

Eight Grundy County contestants participated in the regional championship – two each from Coal City Middle School, MVK Elementary School, Minooka Junior High and Saratoga. Schools may choose whether to participate in the competition.

Students who competed in the LaSalle County competition were from Milton Pope School, Oglesby Washington Junior High School, Parkside Middle School, Seneca Grade School – South Campus, Serena Community District 2 and Waltham Elementary School.

The first, second and third place winners from each county will advance to the state You Be The Chemist Competition.

You Be The Chemist Grundy County winners:

First place – Megha Marone, eighth grade, Minooka Junior High School

Second place – Mason Mulcahy, eighth grade, Coal City Middle School

Third place – Preston Johnson, eighth grade, Coal City Middle School

Fourth place – Tommy Cahill, seventh grade, Mazon-Verona-Kinsman Elementary School

You Be The Chemist LaSalle County winners:

First place – Victoria Glynn, seventh grade, Parkside Middle School

Second place – Brody Snook, eighth grade, Milton Pope School

Third place – Seth Ludford, eighth grade, Waltham Elementary School

Fourth place – Breanna Sampo, eighth grade, Oglesby Washington Junior High School

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