At the Science Museum last week, Miss America Camille Schrier awed a room full of Richmond elementary school students with a colorful, explosive demonstration of science in action.
Viewers were surprised during the 2020 Miss America Competition this past December, when Miss Virginia took the stage to show off her unexpected talent. Camille Schrier, AKA Miss Virginia 2019, did not dance, sing, or perform any of the skills usually seen in talent competitions like this one. Instead, Schrier displayed her expertise in chemistry by demonstrating “Elephant’s Toothpaste” — a simple chemical reaction with spectacular results. The impressive display wowed the audience, and helped win Schrier the title of Miss America 2020.
On Wednesday, January 15, Schrier re-enacted this chemical reaction for students of Carver Elementary School. The exclusive display took place at the Science Museum of Virginia on Broad Street. Miss America made sure the experience was educational for the students, who learned about everything from chemistry equipment and catalysts to how the colorful, explosive reaction of Elephant’s Toothpaste comes from something as easy as mixing four simple chemicals.
The children excitedly counted down from five as Schrier poured potassium iodide into two massive flasks containing hydrogen peroxide, dish soap, and food coloring. In an instant the potassium iodide caused the oxygen in the peroxide to break off. The resulting release of oxygen gas mixed with the dish soap to create foam, and rapidly increased the pressure inside the narrow-necked flasks. Towers of blue and green foam skyrocketed out of the two flasks and brushed the ceiling, causing the children to scream in delight and amazement.
Schrier chose to demonstrate Elephant’s Toothpaste for the talent portion of the Miss America contest due to its “wow” factor and the relative safety of the chemicals involved.
“I wanted to entertain in a scientific way,” said Schrier. “I couldn’t use fire, I could not bring in liquid nitrogen… and [Elephant’s Toothpaste] isn’t too hazardous, so that’s what I fell on.”
Before becoming Miss America, Schrier earned dual Bachelor’s Degrees in Biochemistry and Systems Biology from Virginia Tech. She is currently pursuing a Ph. D at VCU’s School of Pharmacy. Her background in science stretches back to her childhood. Her parents encouraged her interest by teaching her about nature and baking, and by sending her to science camps.
“I remember saying I wanted to be a ‘Naturologist’ when I was five, because that was the best description I could come up with for it,” said Schrier. “I am a product of intrinsic motivation meeting great opportunity and support.”
Schrier’s visit to Carver Elementary Students was part of her Southern Virginia road trip, which brought her back to Richmond from her triumphant victory at last month’s 93rd Miss America competition. During the competition, Schrier told the judges how important it was for her to break stereotypes about Miss America with her science-focused talent, and that she hoped to inspire children with her approach.
“I’m trying to be like Bill Nye [the science guy],” she told VCU News. “That’s what I’m going for. I want to get kids excited, but I don’t want it to be boring.”
The Carver Elementary School students who witnessed her demonstration at the Science Museum last week were certainly not bored. Clearly, Schrier is doing something right.
Photos via Science Museum of Virginia/Facebook