Photo credit: Ryan Myers

Camille Schrier is expanding the reach of science communication (“scicomm”) to an unexpected place – beauty pageants! This biochemistry student recently was crowned Miss Virginia – the talent she demonstrated – a science experiment!

She performed a science experiment sometimes referred to as the “elephant toothpaste” reaction, which involves hydrogen peroxide decomposing into water and oxygen gas, creating a foam. Without help, hydrogen peroxide will only do this really slowly, which is why you can keep it in your medicine cabinet for quite a while, but you can give it help by adding a catalyst, which makes the breakdown easier.

So Schrier, in front of a crowd and judges, added a catalyst, in this case potassium iodide, to hydrogen peroxide (and some dye for dramatic effect), causing massive foaming. This experiment, and the rest of the pageant components, including her advocacy for her “platform issue” of drug safety and opioid awareness, earned her the crown and a ticket to September 2019’s Miss America Pageant. As Miss Virginia, she will tour the state, sharing the love of biochemistry, performing demos in schools, and promoting her “Mind Your Meds” social initiative.

In a press release, she’s quoted as saying: “I am more than Miss Virginia. I am Miss Biochemist, Miss Systems Biologist, Miss Future PharmD looking toward a pharmaceutical industry… Now was the time for me to create a mind shift about the concept of talent by bringing my passion for STEM to the stage. To me, talent is not a passion alone, but also a skill which is perfected over years of learning.”

And learning she is – she graduated from Virginia Tech with degrees in biochemistry and systems biology and is currently studying at Virginia Commonwealth to be a Doctor of Pharmacy, and the prize money will help her pay the tuition.

As an effort to rebrand itself and get away from the emphasis on physical beauty, Miss America recently took measures like removing the swimsuit competition and emphasizing social impact initiatives. Schrier, who had competed in pageants as a teen, but given it up to pursue academics thought this “Miss America 2.0” was something she could get behind and gave it a shot that paid off. She hopes to further challenge stereotypes about what beauty truly means.

Photo: Ryan Myers

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