VSU Chemistry Hosts International Competition

February 15, 2010

VSU Chemistry Hosts International Competition

VALDOSTA -- Valdosta State University's Chemistry Department will host its first-ever international online periodic puzzle competition beginning at 8 p.m. EST Sunday, March 7, and ending 5 p.m. EST, Friday, March 26.

The contest, which challenges students to solve Sudoku-style puzzles by answering chemistry-based riddles, is open to chemistry classes from around the world. Groups of up to six students, guided by an academic adviser, can enter one of three categories, including high school, lower-level undergraduate and upper-level undergraduate. The middle school category permits groups of up to 15 students; the open category allows people of all ages, backgrounds and skill levels -- even those not enrolled in school -- to compete without an academic adviser.

Each group will have almost three weeks to solve 25 chemistry-based puzzles derived from the logic of Latin Squares. Students will complete the nine-by-nine grids by deciphering riddles to determine placement elemental symbols, which represent periodic table elements. For each, the 81 symbols are categorized into nine groups based on their chemical properties and table position to create the grid.

The first group to return all 25 correctly completed puzzles before the 5 p.m. EST March 26 deadline wins. Award certificates will be awarded to the top three finishers in each group. Groups are already registered from as far away as Cuba, China and the United Kingdom. From the U.S. entrants have ranged middle school home-schoolers to a group of industrial engineers.

For three years, VSU Chemistry Professor Dr. Thomas Manning and his chemistry students have collaborated with students from Instituto Superior de Tecnologías y Ciencias Aplicadas (InSTEC) in Havana, Cuba, to complete similar chemistry-based Sudoku-style puzzles. Students at each university-developed riddles -- focused on various aspects of the periodic table -- which were exchanged and translated by Cuban chemistry professor, Aurora Perez Gramatges.

Manning said the collaboration was not only a good academic and education endeavor for the universities, but also a good show of positive diplomacy, which has lead to bigger opportunities.

"This contest is a great way for teachers to get science students involved in an international activity from their classroom,” Manning said. "We’ll update the site with pictures of students from around the world competing. We hope to expand the competition in 2011, which is the International year of Chemistry."

Representatives from event sponsors -- including Chemistry both universities, American Chemical Society, the Florida Academy of Science and VSU's Center for International Programs -- said the challenging exercise will foster critical thinking skills for chemistry students around the world. VSU’s Student Affiliates chemistry chapter (SACCS) is also helping with the event.

Participants can read the full list of rules and register for the competition at http://www.valdosta.edu/periodicpuzzles/ . E-mail Manning at tmanning@valdosta.edu for more information.